An entertaining 1-1 draw against the leaders, a stellar performance by a young defender, and a fascinating conversation about overweight footballers with a friendly bunch of fans on the train home. It was a very enjoyable night all round in what is turning out to be, for Pompey fans, a thoroughly enjoyable Championship season.Say what you like about John Utaka, and plenty of Pompey fans do, but he is no slouch. Speed is the Nigerian's biggest asset and there is none faster than him in Pompey's compact squad.
So Utaka looked likely to be the man to consign QPR to their first Championship defeat last night when Liam Lawrence played a superb pass over the Rangers defence in the 87th minute. The noisy Fratton crowd could sense victory and rose to their feet to urge on Utaka as he sped past Kyle Walker.
Rangers were short of defenders at that stage. They were a man down after the dismissal of Matthew Connolly, who conceded the penalty from which Lawrence had put Portsmouth ahead. Pompey needed a killer second goal, though, because Neil Warnock had sent on all three substitutes for an all-out, long-ball barrage and Rangers were gaining momentum.
A home goal on the break was always a possibility and this, surely, was it. But Utaka, and those fans, could barely believe it as, within a few strides, he was overtaken and dispossessed by Walker, who finished off by playing a quality pass upfield. Never mind the controversial penalties, that was the moment of class that changed the game.
Warnock got what he wanted, a 16th game without defeat, when Tommy Smith scored a 91st-minute penalty after Lawrence's handball. Without Walker it would have been a first defeat.
Both goalkeepers and both pairs of central defenders played well (yes, even Ibrahima Sonko), as did Hayden Mullins and, occasionally, Kanu in his role as midfield maestro, a task he first undertook for Nigeria nearly 10 years ago. But Walker was man of the match by a distance.
The young defender, capped by England at Under-19 and Under-21 level, is on loan from Spurs until January. If Warnock can negotiate an extension, Rangers will have a huge advantage. They have already kept the opposition at bay 10 times in 16 games and have conceded only seven goals. They were unattractive but effective last night, which according to their supporters has been the story of their season. The fans are happy with that.
In discussing the merits of Warnock and Walker on the train, we also went over previous encounters between these teams. Smith's goal meant my long wait went on. In all the times I have seen this fixture since the late 1960s, home or away, I have never seen Pompey beat QPR. It has happened, but not while I was there. The Rangers fans recalled 5-0 wins in the 1970s and the plastic pitch era but we ended up talking mostly about the game in August, 1996, when Kevin Gallen scored twice before suffering a knee injury that kept him out for a year. He was never the same player after that.
Fans and journalists, including me, often hark back to the "good old days" when you could rock up on the night, stand on the terraces, and not have to save up for a ticket.
I looked up the details of that game 14 years ago. Ray Wilkins (first three clubs Chelsea, Man Utd, Milan) lined up for Rangers alongside Steve Yates (last three clubs Scarborough, Halifax, Morecambe). There were present or future waste-of-money players all over the pitch (Lee "bad buy" Bradbury, Paul Hall, Martin Allen, Andy Impey and the hall of famer Jimmy Carter among them).
There were three who are still playing ? Gallen himself at Barnet, Bradbury at Bournemouth, Paul Murray at Hatlepool. Sammy Igoe played for Havant & Waterlooville in the FA Cup on Saturday so that's three and a half.
The Pompey defence featured one of the game's larger characters, in more than one sense. Guy Butters, one of the few footballers to turn out with what looked suspiciously like a double chin, possessed one of the biggest backsides in the history of professional sport (excluding horses, to be fair to him).
Our little discussion group all mentioned Neil Ruddock, of course, and I was happy to point out that in the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, Mido had favoured food over fitness to such an extent that his shorts were known as the tented village. I'd like to hear your other contenders and, please, don't give me the svelte Frank Lampard. In deference to the vegetarian among the QPR travellers we'll call it the l**darse award.
And have a guess at the crowd in 1996. It was more than 10,000 lower than last night at 7,501.
So, 15,000 empty seats and Guy Butters, anyone? Gallen apart, and we'll never know how good he might have been, there was nobody as promising as Kyle Walker on the pitch back then. There's no doubt about it, 2010 has the edge.
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