Portsmouth 0 Everton 1
Published 27/09/2009 | 23:27
Portsmouth were clapped off the pitch, and why not after establishing a record which dates back to 1930 and was last achieved by Manchester United? Well, it is unusual for a team who have lost seven successive matches to be cheered to the rafters (they still have rafters at Fratton Park).
That was Portsmouth's reward after a defeat which makes theirs the worst start to a top-flight season since a relegation-bound United, in 1930-31, lost their opening 12. The ovation was not out of pity, but pride. Pompey dominated Everton for much of this match, playing well enough to suggest that not only will they avoid eclipsing United's mark, but they should also stay up.
To do so, though, they will, as Paul Hart said, have to stop "shooting ourselves in the foot". This was a reference to the moment's inattention in defence which enabled Louis Saha to score his seventh goal of a flourishing season after 42 minutes.
Thereafter Hart's beleaguered men hit the bar, had a header cleared off the line and forced excellent saves from Tim Howard. These matched an earlier effort which denied Aruna Dindane on his superb Premier League debut. Strong performances from Tommy Smith – such a clever player – along with Kevin Prince Boateng, Jamie O'Hara and Marc Wilson also augured well for Hart.
"We played tremendously well and in the second half we should have scored," said the manager. "Defensively I thought we were very sound and our forward play was excellent. If we play like that, we'll pick up."
Sylvain Distin, who left Fratton for Everton during the summer, said he had told the few of his former team-mates who remain: "You'll be all right if you play like that every week."
David Moyes was equally complimentary. "Paul's put a squad together at the last minute and he's doing a magnificent job with them, you can see that by the players' attitude. They gave him everything to the last minute."
The Everton manager was less kind about his own side. "We can play better. We've not hit the form I expect. We had luck on our side." Hart thought the result was less about fate than finesse. "You can talk about luck, but we should have finished better."
Dindane scuffed Pompey's first chance wide under pressure from Johnny Heitinga but he then brought a reflex fingertip save from Howard following a sublime pass from Smith.
Once behind, their chances came more frequently as Everton retreated. Tal Ben-Haim hit Howard's shoulder with a free header from six yards; Aaron Mokoena headed against the bar after Smith nodded a corner back; and Leighton Baines cleared Hassan Yebda's header off the line. Each of these chances, unusually for Everton, were conceded at set-pieces.
They did so because Younes Kaboul failed to cut out Heitinga's long pass and Anthony Vanden Borre failed to cover his centre-half, allowing Saha, having taken the pass on his chin, to expertly turn a shot past David James.
"It was not great play from Everton," moaned Hart. "If a ball travels 40 yards it should be dealt with." Moyes focused on the scorer. "Louis's a really good player, everyone knows that. If we get him on the pitch he will score goals. Louis worked really hard to get fit in pre-season and the goals are a reward for all that effort."
It was not an entirely isolated strike. James had to stick out a foot to prevent Marouane Fellaini heading in Leon Osman's 36th-minute chip and Smith cleared a Tim Cahill header off the line after 65 minutes.
Everton had by then lost Steven Pienaar, whose knee was bizarrely injured by a butt from his compatriot Mokoena. The damage is yet to be assessed, but Moyes was unhappy at the challenge.
Hart has more to worry about. On Friday the club's new owner, Sulaiman al-Fahim, pledged to back him and provide fresh funds. However, little of the promised £50 million will go on team-building and the club remain unstable, with the chief executive Peter Storrie hinting he may quit – which would at least slash the wage bill. On the pitch, though, there is hope – there are, after all, still 93 points to play for.
Referee: A Wiley
Man of the match: Smith