x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lightning strikes thrice

Emmanuel Adebayor scored his third goal in three league games to send Manchester City up to fourth in the Premier League.

Emmanuel Adebayor, centre, celebrates his winning goal, his third in three games, against Portsmouth yesterday.
Emmanuel Adebayor, centre, celebrates his winning goal, his third in three games, against Portsmouth yesterday.

PORTSMOUTH // Emmanuel Adebayor scored his third goal in three league games to send Manchester City up to fourth in the Premier League, but the real test of their title credentials is yet to come. They face Arsenal and Manchester United in their next two games. Adebayor netted with a simple header from a Gareth Barry corner after 30 minutes, continuing City's knack this season of playing within themselves but still winning.

Mark Hughes' side could have thrown it all away in the 88th minute when Portsmouth substitute David Nugent missed an excellent chance to equalise. But Hughes saw enough encouragement in the way his team held on to make it maximum points from three games to suggest the potential is already there ahead of forthcoming matches at home to Arsenal and away to United. "It's still early, but we have to make sure we're in the mix at the end of the season," he insisted. "We've made sure we have a good start and people are saying positive things about us. Of course we've got bigger tests ahead. But I just sense we have a group of players who are really confident and when you go into those tests you have to playing well."

That is certainly true of Adebayor who was the difference between the sides as he rose unmarked to head home the winner in what was a committed performance - a real contrast to his final days at Arsenal when he was accused of being half-hearted. "I thought he was super," said Hughes. "There's a lot said about him as a player and a person and a lot of it was negative, but I have to say you can only judge people on how you find them. I've been really impressed with his play as a player and his personality as a guy. And the fans love him. I think that maybe was missing from his life before. He knows he's at the start of something and it could be something special."

You had to feel a little sorry for Portsmouth after this match. The bare facts show City completed a routine victory, but when you take into account the way Portsmouth's squad has been decimated, and the fact City have spent £170.5 million (Dh1,023m) on signings during a period in which Portsmouth have sold £61m worth of players, they came mighty close to an upset. The match was inevitably billed as a battle of wits between two businessmen from the UAE, Sulaiman Al Fahim having completed his takeover at Portsmouth last week to join Sheikh Mansour as a Premier League owner.

But given the huge contrast in recent fortunes most onlookers were expecting a much heavier defeat for the home side so Al Fahim, dressed in a Portsmouth away shirt, was still smiling at the end despite four defeats in four league games - the club's worst start to a campaign in 56 years, leaving them bottom of the league. It could have been different if only Nugent had not stubbed his late shot into the ground and right at keeper Shay Given.

But even given that glaring miss the truth is Portsmouth were not as bad as they should be having sold so many players and City were not as good as they should be having bought in so many. Pompey, in fact, made five signings ahead of this match and manager Paul Hart says there will be more to come. Hart's team produced a spirited display despite missing David James who is both injured and linked with a move to Spurs - leading Hart to say he "doesn't know" if the keeper will stay at the club.

"There are encouraging signs," he added. "We'll hopefully add a few more players to our squad but if we maintain that spirit then we'll turn this round. The last three months has been almost as if the club has been in limbo so to get an end to that is a bonus and hopefully we can now start to move forward." @Email:sports@thenational.ae