Tottenham Hotspur have been making all the right noises – no panic, good players, faith in the head coach, it will all come right – but there is one deafening scream.
They are, after six league games, bottom of the table with just two points and playing shockingly. This is their worst start for 53 years – and counting – and they are deep in crisis. But history counts for nothing. The here and now matters and it is one league win in 13 under Juande Ramos – or is it Damien Comolli, or Daniel Levy? – which is a record as bad as this performance.
History does indeed count for nothing and Ramos may have won the Carling Cup last season but that memory is rapidly fading. As much as the Spurs hierarchy profess to an unwavering faith in the Spaniard they will have to act if this continues. A 50th game in charge for Ramos but what a miserable half-century it proved to be. The day started with, again, talk of takeover and, this time, rumours of a "super-rich" Asian tycoon being interested but it will be regime change of another kind down at the Lane – especially if Spurs exit the Uefa Cup this week away to Wisla Krakow and then fail to prosper at home to vibrant Hull City next Sunday.
Asked whether he – to be blunt – expected to survive, Ramos said simply: "That is something that does not depend on me. We have a board and a chairman who decide that sort of thing." But does he have their confidence? "Yes, absolutely," the head coach added. "We speak regularly and everyone is aware of the delicate situation we are in." None more so that their shellshocked supporters. When lone striker Roman Pavyluchenko was withdrawn, with Spurs two-down, they chanted: "You don't know what you are doing". What did Ramos make of that? "That doesn't hurt," he added. "What hurts is not winning games."
There is a lot of hurt at present. A bitter afternoon for Spurs was made all the worse by the inevitability of the identity of the Portsmouth goalscorers. The brilliantly indefatigable Peter Crouch, dominant throughout, headed home the second and although his spell at Spurs came at the start of his career, the first goal was claimed by Jermain Defoe whose history is a lot more recent and far more acrimonious. The irony will not have been lost on Martin Jol, deposed to make way for Ramos, with one of the reasons cited for his sacking his poor relationship with Defoe.
Watched by Fabio Capello, Defoe brimmed with motivation. He had said he had waited almost a year for the moment to play against his former club, which was not quite true, but he performed as if it had been an eternity. A man possessed, he also possessed many of the qualities his former club lacked – notably taking responsibility as he drove a first-half penalty, after an inexplicable handball by Jermaine Jenas, beyond the dive of goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, for his sixth goal in five games.
A clean sheet, too, for Portsmouth – although that should probably have not been the case with Lassana Diarra reprieved by referee Mike Dean, who had a poor game, after also appearing to handle in the area when the home side were just one goal in front. "No-one seems to help us," complained Ramos who, rightly, pointed out that Diarra's mistake was almost a copy of Jenas's. Indeed Diarra was central to much of the action. Along with Defoe and Crouch he transforms this Portsmouth side, giving it the drive and aggression that they lacked in midweek against Chelsea, having also lost to Manchester City. Those two games cost 10 goals without reply.
Diarra – who blighted a superb performance with a late sending off for a second yellow card – was also central to manager Harry Redknapp's discussion of Portsmouth's future. The owner Sasha Gaydamak has been strongly linked with looking for a buyer, with suspicions of money troubles haunting him, and Redknapp dealt with that by saying: "You show me a football club that is not for sale. Every club has a price. But I don't think he's chasing around trying to sell it. We are not in trouble. I turned down £15m for Diarra on transfer deadline day." He was asked who the offer came from, replying: "I'm not telling him because he might want to go there."
Surely it wouldn't be to Spurs, even though they cry out for someone with his drive. Instead Ramos, with half an eye on the trip to Poland, stripped his team of some of their pace and again used the formula – blocking up the midfield – that earned the Carling Cup victory at Newcastle United. Except Portsmouth are not such soft touches and, in the face of that, Spurs crumbled. Jenas, the captain, was one of several anonymous players although it was the Brazilian full-back, Gilberto, who plumbed the depths.
Twice Gomes had to push out fierce efforts by Richard Hughes before Jenas handled Glen Little's free-kick. For Spurs there was nothing before their penalty claim and a volley over from Pavyluchenko while after Crouch headed in, as the ball spun into the area off Gomes from Armand Traoré's powerful shot, David James turned away Aaron Lennon's curling effort. Another substitute, Darren Bent, skied a final chance before Spurs trudged off, condemned to another defeat.
Goals: Defoe (pen, 34) 1-0; Crouch (68) 2-0
Portsmouth (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Belhadj; Little (Utaka, 61), Diarra, Hughes, A Traore; Crouch, Defoe (Kaboul, 90). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Hreidarsson, Pamarot, Mvuemba, Kanu.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-1-4-1): Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, Woodgate, Assou-Ekotto; Zokora (Giovani, 58); Bentley, O'Hara, Jenas, Gilberto (Lennon, 46); Pavyluchenko (Bent, 73). Substitutes not used: Cesar (gk), Huddlestone, Modric, Gunter.
Bookings: Portsmouth Diarra, Belhadj, Crouch, Hughes. Tottenham Woodgate, O'Hara, Lennon.
Sent off: Diarra (second yellow, 88)
Referee: M Dean (Wirral)
Man of the match: Defoe.