Fratton Park is one of the closer venues I get to visit so I turned up at Will’s place in West Sussex straight from work where he and Chris were waiting. We set off for the thirty minute run to Portsmouth and enjoyed (I use this term very loosely) sausage and chips at one of the local vendor vans. The provenance of the sausages was highly questionable but Will and I were too hungry to care. Chris declined to join us as he has picked up an enteric virus that has been doing the rounds and was feeling distinctly under the weather.
Chris Hughton named an unchanged side from Saturday and we anticipated the start eagerly; another performance like the one against Middlesbrough and the points were a formality surely? It started well enough with Zigic giving a lively Birmingham the lead after only eight minutes with a stunning left-footed cross shot past Ashdown following good work from King to put the big man in. Zigic still had two defenders to contend with and beat them both with a skilful touch and the ball was in the net as quick as you like.
Blues were all over Pompey in the early stages with Burke and Townsend seeing plenty of the ball and running the full backs ragged. It was too easy and so Blues’ response was to take their collective foot off the pedal, drop back and attempt to break and do everything through the middle. This allowed Portsmouth back into a game that they should have been buried alive in and more and more as the half wore on the home side started to look dangerous. Chris was beginning to shiver and expressed grave doubts about seeing the match out and suggested that he felt so horrible that he’d have to leave early and as the performance wasn’t up to much I can’t say that I blamed him. He said to me that this reminded him of Leicester City last week all over again and that he had a bad feeling about the second half. At this point Chris had to go in search of the toilets for the second time in the half.
Whilst he was away a Luke Varney cross from the by-line flashed across our goal and Maguire was a lick of boot polish away from notching the equaliser. After such a bright start Blues’ performance was simply mediocre. The passing was dreadful, the distribution predictable and poor and the energy non-existent. My feeling were that we were ahead having not played very well and surely Chris Hughton would remind his charges of the task in hand and get them to up their game. All that was required was to do the basics properly, move the ball quicker and push the play up the pitch ten yards or so and put a weakened Pompey outfit on the back foot. The team did none of these things; they merely continued in the same vein as the first half and frankly Chris’ prophecy was looking like coming to fruition. Despite this, against the run of play, King nearly doubled Blues’ lead. Andros Townsend, whom I have to say looked our best player on the night (it wasn’t a difficult accolade to achieve believe me) slipped a great pass in for King whose first touch wasn’t the best but having readjusted and turned the centre-halves back and forth he smacked a powerful shot that was well saved by Ashdown for his defenders to complete the clearance. 2-0 here and I suspect the game was won but Blues are nothing but dangerous with a loaded shot gun cocked ready and aimed at their feet! Within a couple of minutes, Curtis Davies conceded a free-kick near the left angle of the penalty area when he was alleged to have impeded Varney. Frankly I thought he had just got his body across the Pompey player and had merely shepherded the ball away.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the award, allowing the ball to be tapped sideways to Maguire to take aim and shoot was unacceptable and the ball cannoned off a Blues defender, I am told, Burke and it found the bottom corner of the net. That was bad enough but what happened over the next few minutes ended the match as a contest. Murphy was shown a second yellow card for a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge on Maguire just before the hour. The full back had been booked in the first half for a foul that in my view did not warrant a caution. He had made a genuine attempt to play the ball and the contact was minimal. The trouble with booking players for challenges like that early on is that it gives no leeway later when a more deserving challenge is punished. I think the second challenge was a bookable offence though the feeling around me was that the challenge was legal. Either way Murphy did not deserve to be sent off but was. Murphy was clearly furious and made no bones about telling Mr Malone, the referee exactly what he felt which in itself was unusual for someone like Murphy who is noted for his placid temper and conduct about the pitch. From the resulting free-kick, Portsmouth promptly went ahead. Guirane N’Daw partially cleared the cross when Norris blatantly handled the ball to control it. His resulting shot arrowed past Myhill from 16 yards. The whole Blues’ team were incensed and most chased the referee protesting the obvious injustice to no avail.
This was about the only time that Blues then woke up and starting playing in a manner that was likely to get anything out of the disaster that was of their own making although they had to gamble. Wade Elliott came on for Peter Ramage and went two at the back effectively although Townsend and Burke were asked to fill in at full back whilst trying to create forward momentum at the same time. Chris was feeling really rotten at this stage and said, “This is Leicester all over again and I’m going to get going. I don’t want to sit in traffic and possibly needing the toilet so bye lads.” I can’t say I blamed him; at least he was spared much of what happened next. It became one-way traffic with gaping holes appearing in the full back channels and Chris’ worst half-time fears were realized. Thirteen minutes were left with Blues going gung ho in an attempt to restore parity Pompey broke away down the right via Maguire and Kelvin Etuhu smashed a third goal into the top corner with the Blues defence hopelessly exposed.
It was at this point that Will turned to me and said, “this is no longer enjoyable mate,” I could only agree with him and we followed Chris’ earlier example and made for the exit, a thing I very rarely do but the match was no longer a true contest and it was a matter of how many we lost by. We beat the traffic and stopped at the White Hart in Haslemere for a much needed pint of London Pride which slipped down sweet as a nut. We apparently conceded a fourth goal in the second minute of stoppage-time scored by Marko Futacs. I didn’t see it and don’t care how good it was; the night was a complete disaster football wise and I’m afraid it is a nail although not a final one in the coffin of our promotion hopes. We look to have run out of steam because Chris is right; it was Leicester all over again only worse.
There have been too many games like this and the number of them recently is increasing alarmingly. Personally, even if we make the play-offs which is a genuine doubt given our forthcoming program I don’t think we will make it through. We have played too many games and injuries and fatigue have finally caught up with us. We face Cardiff on Sunday with no recognised full backs and the way we played last night makes me fear the worst. Portsmouth, with the dregs of what is left of their squad, beat us easily and showed more heart, drive and commitment than we did. True we shouldn’t have been down to ten men and yes the referee was absolutely dreadful and truly influenced the outcome with some shocking decisions but a team with promotion pretensions has to rise above those things. We were terrible frankly in the first half especially having taken the lead. We should have buried them; we didn’t and we paid dearly for our lazy, lack-lustre, low tempo play against a team there for the taking. Ultimately we got what we deserved; nothing!
The Good: The pint of London Pride in the White Hart and the fact that we didn’t have far to go to get home.
The Bad: Trying to get a parking spot round the ground. I felt really sorry for the noses who had travelled all the way down from the Midlands to watch this dross.
The Ugly: The sausages purchased before the game. I doubt there was much associated with the porcine species and that that there was was probably of highly questionable origin. Still Will and I don’t appear to be in the same state as poor Chris this morning so there’s always a silver lining to every cloud! 😀
Portsmouth: Jamie Ashdown 6, Joel Ward 6, Ricardo Rocha 6, Jason Pearce 7, Luke Varney 6, Greg Halford 6, Scott Allan 6 (Kelvin Etuhu 74, 6) David Norris 6 (Ashley Harris 90+5) George Thorne 6, Chris Maguire 8 (Marko Futacs 89) Tal Ben Haim 6.
Subs not used: Benjani, Adam Webster
Goals: Maguire 54, Norris 61, Etuhu 77, Futacs 90+2
Birmingham City: Boaz Myhill 5, Peter Ramage 4 (Wade Elliott 65, 5) Curtis Davies 5, Steven Caldwell 5, David Murphy 5, Chris Burke 4, Guirane N’Daw 4, Keith Fahey 6 (Pablo Ibanez 83) Andros Townsend 6, Nikola Zigic 5 (Adam Rooney 88) Marlon King 5.
Subs not used: Colin Doyle, Morgaro Gomis.
Goals: Zigic 8
Bookings: Murphy 38 & 59 Davies 52 Caldwell 62 Zigic 62
Sent off: Murphy 59
Referee: Brendan Malone 2: This official is by far the worst referee I have seen all season. He was struggling to keep up with play, had to be bailed out by his assistants on more than one occasion for basic infringements missed because of it and got far too many key decisions wrong. The sending off of Murphy was frankly ridiculous; the first offence was not a bookable offence and the second was arguably shoulder to shoulder though I would personally have been happy to accept that one as the challenge was pretty robust. He failed to book Thorne a second time in the first half for a far worse tackle on Townsend and he bottled it as this would have meant a red card for the home side fairly early on. Pompey’s second should definitely have been chalked off as it was a clear hand ball to those of us up the other end of the pitch! Generally the outcome of games don’t change because of a refereeing decision however much we all argue about it but last night, frankly the referee influenced the result because of a string of abysmal calls. He normally referees in Leagues 1 and 2; he should stay there as he is certainly not competent at this level.