Two second-half goals in quick succession from Benjani and Hermann Hreidarsson handed Portsmouth a straightforward victory that saw them leap to fifth in the league and left a demoralised Fulham side in the drop zone.
Lawrie Sanchez’s side were far from as disciplined as they had been on their last league outing in late September, a creditable goalless draw at Chelsea. This time a defensive slip from Carlos Bocanegra allowed Benjani to open the scoring and, as Fulham were recovering from the shock of going behind, Nico Kranjcar prized open their defence again and Hreidarsson doubled the Pompey lead. It was an abject showing from the home side, devoid of the necessary cohesion to pose too many problems for Harry Redknapp’s well organised visitors, who are flying at the moment.
Fulham, shorn of a focal point up front by the long-term injury to their club captain Brian McBride, could have been behind in a nervy first period. Sulley Muntari got past the hapless Bocanegra far too easily and Kasey Keller, retained in place of the shaky Antti Niemi, had to be alert at his near post to smother the shot. When John Utaka collected a quick throw-out from David James and raced past Hameur Bouazza and Paul Konchesky, Keller was called upon once more to preserve parity.
Fulham had, until this point, largely had to be content with efforts from long range. Clint Dempsey, operating as a striker in the absence of McBride, had the best of them early on before Bouazza got past Glen Johnson late in the first half only for David James to make a splendid save from David Healy. Whatever Lawrie Sanchez said during the half-time team talk didn’t stay in the heads of his Fulham players long as they were soon two down and facing an uphill battle to salvage a point from the contest.
Bocanegra, who looked horribly weak at centre back, took his eye off the ball and his surroundings momentarily and it proved fatal. Benjani burst past him to score the opener – Keller had little chance with the clinical finish – and that set the cat amongst the pigeons. Shortly afterwards, Steven Davis, who also looks increasingly lightweight in central midfield, was robbed by the raiding Niko Kranjcar and the Croatian played a perfect through ball for Hreidarsson to race onto. Chris Baird did his best to prevent the full back from scoring his second of the season but only succeeding in deflecting the ball past his own goalkeeper.
Those two swift strikes killed the contest. Sanchez made a treble substitution, introducing Danny Murphy, Diomansy Kamara and Seol Ki-Hyeon, but it only briefly threatened to have any effect. Dempsey should have done better than to shoot wide after creating some space in the Pompey box but there was yet more illustration of Fulham’s defensive frailities before Howard Webb put the home side out of their misery.
Bouazza allowed Johnson to run half the length of the pitch to raid down the right and Krancjar was angry not to have hit the target from 10 yards. Benjani shot straight at Keller rather tamely late on, but it mattered little since Portsmouth had already demonstrated their superiority. Sanchez said afterwards that he knew the home fans would be disappointed.
I can understand the fans’ frustration. They have seen us play some good stuff this season but number one for them is results, and we are just not getting them.
The perfect way is getting wins and entertaining along the way but for those fans who pay good money, entertaining comes second. I was pleased with some of our players and not so much others but I don’t feel let down. Two wins could put us back in the middle of the table.
He had better hope those two wins come quickly.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Keller; Baird (Murphy 60), Konchesky, Hughes, Bocanegra; Davis, Smertin (Seol 61), Davies, Bouazza; Healy (Kamara 61), Dempsey. Subs (not used): Niemi, Stefanovic.
PORTSMOUTH (4-4-2): James; Johnson, Hreidarsson (Paramot 87), Campbell, Distin; Davis, Diop (Mendes 76), Muntari, Kranjcar; Benjani, Utaka. Subs (not used): Ashdown, Taylor, Nugent.
GOALS: Benjani (50), Hreidarsson (52).
REFEREE: Howard Webb (South Yorkshire).