Pompey 1 Barnsley 0

Kanu glances home the winner with his head
Kanu glances home the winner with his head
Joe Hancott in action for Pompey Reserves against Southend. Picture: Colin Farmery

Harris hails Pompey Reserves’ performance

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There was something strangely compelling watching Kanu shambling out of Fratton Park.

Not a run, not a gallop, more a sped-up shuffling as he disappeared across the South Stand touchline.

Within minutes of saving the day, Pompey’s very own Lassie had fled without so much a pause to savour the occasion.

The striker is certainly as ageless as everyone’s favourite collie.

Still, his work was done, time to move on, even if these days the movement does resemble an elderly giraffe with asthma.

Kanu had somewhere else to be in a hurry, no time to milk the plaudits from his grateful team-mates or address the waiting media.

Duty elsewhere called and he faded into the setting sun while many left inside the ground looked on with unbridled admiration.

After all, this remarkable man’s show-stealing 20 minutes finally brought Pompey a home win.

There were some mutterings and murmurings of discontent when Steve Cotterill opted to bring the 34-year-old off the bench in the 70th minute.

In truth, the reaction was more to do with the identity of the player he replaced – Joel Ward – than anything disrespectful towards the Nigeria international.

Still, within 14 minutes he had nicked the only goal and lit up a scrappy affair with his peerless guile and abundant skill.

That’s Kanu for you.

Despite his increasing years, his quality remains as rich as ever and establishes him as perhaps the finest impact player in the Championship.

Afterwards, Hermann Hreidarsson emitted a wry smile when asked about his long-time Pompey team-mate.

Probably because – according to birth certificates – Kanu is approximately two years and 26 days younger than him.

Not that you would dare present such a statistic to the Iceland international for fear of a playful headlock or throttling.

As for debutant David Cotterill, he was gushing in his admiration for a player he had spent just three days training with following his emergency loan arrival from Swansea.

Raised as a staunch Manchester United fan, the 23-year-old had grown up watching Kanu inspire sworn enemies Arsenal to the Double, in addition to a Premier League title and the FA Cup in the early part of the last decade.

Yet there they were, fighting alongside each other for the Pompey good and then toasting victory together at the final whistle.

For Blues fans, though, the former Ajax star’s match-winning cameo is nothing but normal service.

His introduction in the previous home match against Derby contributed towards the snatching of a last-gasp point.

True, David Nugent plunged the knife in true Pedro Mendes-esque fashion to claim a 1-1 draw on that occasion.

But it was substitute Kanu’s aerial presence which caused Shaun Barker to struggle with a headed clearance and allow Pompey’s top-scorer to latch onto the loose ball and spectacularly net.

Two weeks later he was back at Fratton Park, this time getting on the scoresheet himself to clinch a first win on home soil since October.

Kanu entered the pitch in a game drifting towards a goalless draw, unsatisfactory in the eyes of the Fratton faithful considering the identity of the opposition.

Not even the onset of a second-successive clean sheet would have made such a scoreline palatable.

Within a minute, Kanu had somehow tricked and stumbled his way into the Barnsley penalty area, narrowly failing to release Hayden Mullins.

He then proceeded to play keep ball whenever it entered his gravitational field as suddenly Cotterill’s men stepped up their game.

Then came the decisive moment.

Aaron Mokoena bought a free-kick 25 yards out after taking a tumble in front of referee Roger East on 84 minutes.

Jacob Mellis was booked for his protests but was soon even more incensed at the Wiltshire match official.

Greg Halford clipped in the free-kick and Kanu rose higher than Nathan Doyle to glance a header past the excellent Luke Steele.

It was a second goal of the season for the talismanic striker and a first at Fratton Park for 11 months, since he netted the winner against Hull.

More importantly, it was a first win in eight matches on home soil for Cotterill’s men, giving them a leg-up to 16th in the table as their scaling of the Championship table continues.

Suddenly, everything is appearing more encouraging at Fratton Park.

That is until injuries and suspensions stir again to apply the brakes to the smallest squad in the Football League.

For now, though, that gap between the drop zone is growing ever larger, with plenty of winnable games to come over the next few weeks.

Not that it looked like there was anything to be cheerful about for long spells of Saturday’s encounter.

It began brightly enough, with 15 minutes of wonderfully open football and end-to-end attacking play in front of a vibrant crowd.

In only the second minute Doyle’s ball down the middle released the dangerous Danny Haynes into the box but he screwed his half-volley wide.

At the other end, Liam Lawrence’s clever lob into the box sent Nugent scampering away and his fierce and sweetly-struck effort was somehow kept out by Steele.

It was a remarkable save and on nine minutes Dave Kitson should have scored following a fine move involving Cotterill and Mullins, only to drag his effort wide of the post.

On the half-hour mark, Haynes sent a dipping 25-yard half volley flashing just past the far post with Pompey keeper Jamie Ashdown struggling.

Then, inexplicably, the match as a spectacle ground to a halt as it descended into tedium.

Suddenly mistakes were dogging both sides as the fans began to get edgy.

Not even the half-time break helped, the match getting worse after the interval as it was punctuated by a flurry of yellow cards.

Then Pompey’s manager made the decision which at the time so audibly irked some of home faithful.

It proved to be a game-changing one as that man Kanu intervened in clinical fashion.

And there still isn’t a finer sight in football than the former Arsenal man ambling over the turf.