Both teams made a tentative start to the match. Pompey seemed more content to stop any West Ham threat than create chances of their own. Carlton Cole was most aware of this having been flattened twice by Portsmouth’s intimidating centre-back paring of Aaron Mokoena and Tal Ben Haim.
The crowd were freely voicing their opinions on the game too. Referee Kevin Friend knew it was going to be a fiery game and so was choosing to let play run its course. After ignoring a Pompey penalty appeal, much to the outrage of the crowd, he first chose to intervene when Dave Kitson hacked down Joey O’Brien.
West Ham took the free-kick quickly by knocking the ball into the box and were awarded a penalty for shirt tugging. Mark Noble hit the penalty hard to goalkeeper Stephen Henderson’s right, who couldn’t keep the kick out despite getting a hand to it.
Portsmouth threatened late in the first half. Liam Lawrence put a delightful crossfield ball onto the feet of Dave Kitson who flashed across goal a shot that just needed a poacher to tap in. Portsmouth almost scored from the resulting two corners, the first West Ham needed to clear off the line. The third corner was a waste, however, and represented their last chance of the half.
The booing Portsmouth left the field to must have invigorated the players as they engineered a lovely move involving almost the entire midfield and attack at the start of the second half. Kitson played a stylish backheel into Norwegian striker Erik Huseklepp, but Pompey lacked the one killer pass or piece of incision to score.
Arguably the turning point of the match was a red card given to Portsmouth centre-midfielder David Norris. It appeared very harsh and will be of relevance if the laws regarding two footed challenges are to be reviewed, which appears necessary after a number of controversial decisions by referees in recent weeks.
The sending off put the game firmly in the command of West Ham until the introduction at 83 minutes of former Premier League striker Benjani which gave the home side an edge they had missed all game. He functioned as a dangerous target man almost immediately, his knockdown gave Marko Fuctas the opportunity to blast an excellent chance over Robert Green in West Ham’s goal.
West Ham played a gritty game to take the three points. That their manager Sam Allardyce said in the post-match press conference “We are delighted with the performance and the result” was testament to Portsmouth’s recent hot form.