It's a telling sign of the state of the competition in the English Premier League that if Manchester United had lost at Portsmouth Monday in only its second game this season, many would have declared the title race already over. With United missing league action this coming weekend to play Zenit St Petersburg in the UEFA Super Cup on Friday, Chelsea could have potentially opened up an eight-point gap between the two teams just a fortnight into the new season.
But despite missing Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves, United won 1-0 thanks to the second goal in two games from Scottish midfielder Darren Fletcher. Matt Lawton paid tribute in his game report to "the quality of its [United's] understudies," and the three "precious points owed much to the sheer determination of players like Fletcher and John O'Shea" who are "so often the unsung heroes."
Paul Scholes also excelled in midfield, and Carlos Tevez "was also terrific. He worked tirelessly in attack as well as providing the pass that led to that decisive first-half goal." For Portsmouth, now bottom of the table and pointless after two games, "nothing appeared to go right from the moment the stewards stumbled and dropped the lid of the FA Cup they were supposed to be parading to the fans."