Two Davids form a deadly alliance against Norwich City
NORWICH CITY 0, PORTSMOUTH 2: The last time Portsmouth celebrated victory at Carrow Road, two Davids had just formed what was to prove a very successful alliance.
No, not the short-lived political partnership that made headlines in the 1980s, but the management team of Dave Stringer and David Williams, who had just taken charge of Norwich City but were still finding their feet when Alan Ball’s Pompey escaped with three points.
Not since that day in 1987 had the South Coast side beaten the Canaries on their own ground, but the long wait was over on Saturday as two Davids – Nugent and Kitson – emerged from their first-half torpor to supply the spark that secured three Championship points.
Nugent provided the storming run that set up the opening goal for Kitson in the 73rd minute and it was a similar burst of speed from Nugent that earned an injury-time penalty when he was brought down by defender Leon Barnett, Greg Halford scoring from the spot.
Barnett’s dismissal for a second yellow card was unfortunate on the basis that the first yellow, for a foul on Kitson, had been harsh, but his heat of the moment decision to throw the ball at referee Simon Hooper when he saw red was something City could have done without in a season of disciplinary worries.
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On the balance of play, a fourth home defeat of the season for Paul Lambert’s side was rough justice, but for once their finishing did not match their approach play. The fact that they failed to score for the first time in 10 matches was down to a combination of missed opportunities in the first half and a generally sound display by Pompey’s Jamie Ashdown, who briefly wore the goalkeeper’s jersey for City four years ago.
It could be argued that skipper Grant Holt’s absence through suspension was a factor – three of last season’s League One defeats also came when he was missing from the side – but Lambert would not entertain the theory and there were certainly enough chances in the opening half for the top scorer’s team-mates to have made light of his enforced lay-off.
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A fourth minute free-kick by Liam Lawrence that struck the side netting was Portsmouth’s one worthwhile effort of the opening half before City spurned one opening after another.
Holt’s replacement, Simeon Jackson, missed the best opportunity in the 18th minute when headers by Wes Hoolahan and Chris Martin put him clean through against Ashdown, but he struck a tame left-foot shot straight at the ’keeper.
Jackson went much closer to scoring with a glancing header from a corner that was just the wrong side of the post, and there was a rare blunder when Ashdown let Hoolahan’s corner slip through his hands, but Barnett was just unable to hook the loose ball goalwards.
Henri Lansbury’s powerful drive was blocked by Ricardo Rocha and Chris Martin tested Ashdown with a swerving shot from the edge of the area.
Martin was much closer to breaking the deadlock two minutes before the interval when his far-post header from Simon Lappin’s cross struck defender Joel Ward on the back of the head and dropped just the wrong side of the post.
In stoppage time, Andrew Crofts was the guilty man, shovelling his shot wide from Jackson’s pass after Aaron Mokoena’s attempt to clear had rebounded off Chris Martin.
Barnett was shown a harsh but costly first yellow card in the 50th minute when he caught Kitson’s heel in trying to meet a through-ball – his fifth booking of the season would have meant a one-match ban in any case but worse was to follow in stoppage time.
Pompey looked more threatening after the interval – they could hardly have looked less so – and there was an opening when Crofts was caught in possession on the edge of the area but Lawrence should have done better when the ball fell to him than fire narrowly wide.
Hoolahan twice tried his luck, Ashdown beating away his powerful shot nine minutes after the break, and he was just wide from 25 yards after David Fox’s challenge set up a quick counter-attack.
One is accustomed to seeing Lambert ring the changes for the final quarter of a home match in an attempt to break the stalemate, but he waited a little longer than usual. Just as Oli Johnson had started to warm up on the touchline in anticipation of his first slice of action in seven matches, Portsmouth, out of the blue, snatched the lead.
Nugent was the architect with a determined run which took him past Lappin and Lansbury and he evaded Elliott Ward’s tumbling challenge to deliver a low cross that was thumped home first-time by Kitson.
Lansbury’s bouncing effort almost supplied the equaliser but Ashdown, diving to his right, was equal to it, and then came three late City changes as Johnson, Korey Smith and McNamee entered the fray. One of them almost paid off in stoppage time when Ward’s goalbound header from a McNamee corner was deflected wide by Kitson’s head.
But Pompey, making three injury-time substitutions of their own, had the final say as Barnett felled Nugent, who then indulged in the kind ill-advised baiting of home fans that might have sparked trouble in front of less tolerant crowds. Halford’s penalty rubbed salt in City’s wounds – not least for Barnett, whose weekend had started so well with confirmation of a permanent move to Carrow Road. But he still left the field to a rousing ovation.