FOOTBALL: HARRY'S WIZARD BUY; GILLINGHAM..........1 PORTSMOUTH........3: Former England International Stamps His Class: Redknapp Delight as Merson Turns on Magic to See off Gills.(Sport)
Byline: PETER BURRINGTON
PAUL Merson's vintage display kept Pompey on top of the First Division and left the fans and managers at Priestfield singing the ex-England midfielder's praises.
Merson scored Pompey's opener and superbly set up the killer third that finally knocked the stuffing out of a Gills side battling to defend their unbeaten home record.
Pompey manager Harry Redknapp made a dozen summer signings, but the capture of Merson looks like his masterstroke.
Redknapp said: "He's a fantastic player, I'd pay money to watch him play. He's a real top performer and has been a great signing.
"He took his goal really well and his passing opens up defences. All the players like having him in the side."
Gills manager Andy Hessenthaler agreed: "At times we just couldn't pick him up. Merson's a player you should try to learn from."
Redknapp added: "To score three goals away from home is encouraging. We always look like we are going to score but we also look as though we might concede because we are very open, but that's the way we play.
"We are so attack-minded that I'm sure one of these days we're going to get a belting. But we will belt a few others on the way.
"We came in quite comfortable at half-time 2-0 up but they had nothing to lose and came on strong and had a go.
"The second half was much tougher and once it got to 2-1 the next goal was always going to be the important one. Whoever got it was going to be in the ascendancy, and we got it."
Merson weaved his magic from the start, spraying passes all over the park and peppering the home goal with an array of shots and crosses. He fired his first warning early on with a curling effort that flew past bemused Gills keeper Vince Bartram's left-hand post.
Then a pinpoint pass split the home defence and Mark Burchill slid the ball inches wide.
The inevitable happened in the 32nd minute when Mark Taylor charged down the left to fire in a low cross. The defence went missing and Merson was there to sidefoot home from 12 yards. …