MANCHESTER // The simple facts are that Manchester City have won seven of their nine games under Roberto Mancini and are one point outside the top four with two games in hand on most of their immediate rivals. The context is that, four days after the shattering blow Manchester United inflicted in injury time at Old Trafford, Mancini's men won the sort of match where previous City sides have proved sadly accident prone.
Yet, the defeat at Everton aside, this was City's least convincing performance under the Italian. Goals from Emmanuel Adebayor and Vincent Kompany secured victory, but not before Portsmouth had struck the woodwork or enjoyed the better of the majority of the first half. There were moments when Avram Grant stood impassively on the touchline, hands in pockets while a more agitated Mancini practically bounced up and down in nervous frustration.
After two goals in six minutes before the interval, the City manager was his usual composed self again, his Portsmouth counterpart looking resigned to his fate. The consequence was that Pompey's pessimism is accompanied by City's optimism. "We will fight until the end of the season," Mancini said. "There are three or four other teams who can arrive in the top four. We are in a good position now." With Stephen Ireland passing the ball intelligently and Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong providing a solid base to the midfield, there was a dependability to his side, though less invention than has been the case of late. Until a late cameo, Craig Bellamy was rested and City lacked the spark the Welshman often provides.
They were disrupted, too, by injuries to Pablo Zabaleta and Kompany, even if their difficulties were alleviated by Kolo Toure's return from international duty. However, the subdued nature of the occasion may have been inevitable given the crushing nature of Wednesday's derby defeat. "Sometimes it wasn't a very good game," admitted Mancini. "Against Manchester United we played strongly and very, very well. Today we were so tired, we started the game slowly, we moved the ball slowly."
That could have cost them. Portsmouth almost led. John Utaka backheeled brilliantly into the path of the raiding right-back, Anthony Vanden Borre. His shot deflected off Kompany and on to the bar. Danny Webber could not tap in the rebound, Ireland getting his body between the Portsmouth forward and the ball. A chance at one end was followed by a goal at the other. "It was borderline offside," said Portsmouth's first-team coach Paul Groves. It was superbly taken, though. Adebayor deftly plucked Ireland's chipped pass out of the air before rifling his half-volley beyond David James.
Another followed soon afterwards. When Martin Petrov whipped a corner in, Kompany climbed above Tal Ben-Haim, to head in City's second goal. Thereafter, Carlos Tevez was inches away from extending his glorious run in front of goal. After typically incisive play from Bellamy, the Argentine turned sharply to strike a shot that clipped a post. Portsmouth had further opportunities, the best after Shay Given parried a shot from Angelos Basinas and Webber lost his footing as he tried to convert the rebound.
Meanwhile, the City players' thoughts were with one of their injured teammates. Under their shirts, several wore T-shirts reading "Team Bridge". The left-back, whose former partner had an affair with John Terry, appears the wronged party in the latest scandal in English football. "Wayne is a fantastic man," said Mancini. "The players are very, very close to him." firstname.lastname@example.org