Football: Bottom of the table for Pompey

Stephen Brenkley follows the fortunes and ill fortunes of El Tel's other team
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The Independent Online
Meanwhile, back in England Terry Venables has another football conundrum to solve. Whatever he decides to do with Australia now that they are not going to the World Cup, he still has the small matter to face of Portsmouth who, if they are not more careful, may be going to the Second Division. As coach of one and chairman-cum-owner of the other, Venables occupies positions hitherto unparalleled in the game. Neither is threatening to bring imminent reward.

If it was natural for him to be preoccupied yesterday with Australia's heart-achingly narrow failure to qualify for France '98, he will not necessarily be uplifted by the video of Portsmouth's performance at St Andrews, which saw them go bottom. They were largely anonymous and this 2-1 defeat by Birmingham leaves them in parlous shape. The poverty of their ambition allied to the sloppiness of their passing, especially in a deeply dispiriting first half, were everything you would not expect from a team with which El Tel is associated.

Pompey's manager is Terry Fenwick, the former England central defender who played under Venables. Both men have made it clear there is no interference. Venables has chipped in with occasional suggestions, Fenwick has been glad to hear them but he has also been allowed to get on with the job.

For his part, Venables has emphasised that he has no intention whatever of sacking the manager and, as if by way of support, a telephone poll in the Portsmouth Evening News last week found 65 per cent in Fenwick's support. This may be slightly bizarre given both Portsmouth's position and the impatience for success of the average fan, but that is the Venables effect for you.

He has always courted controversy and affection in roughly equal measure. Anybody watching his club yesterday - especially if they saw Australia's brave effort in Melbourne first - would realise that Venables may have to act quickly at Fratton Park. He has already done something to make the ground much less shambolic than it was with a new stand but the team need equally urgent attention.

Portsmouth were content merely to defend yesterday with only the pace of Fitzroy Simpson and Paul Hall, two players who have been frequently absent on World Cup duty with Jamaica this season, gave them much opportunity of scoring. For most of the match they merely absorbed what Birmingham had to offer, which most of the time was not much, and having absorbed were too punch-drunk to do little but hang on.

When Venables returns to England, he will be expected - by the club's fans at any rate - to assess what needs to be done and start interfering. No chairman or owner in the universe can be more qualified to do so. Birmingham were hardly streets ahead in terms of skill or wit yesterday, but deserved the points.

It was Portsmouth who somehow took the lead after 34 minutes when Hall found himself in the clear of a defence which was all over the place except the one it should have been in. A minute later City were level, Paul Furlong volleying home after the ball had struck bar and post. Midway through the second half, Furlong met Steve Robinson's cross to give them a lead they rarely threatened either to yield or extend.

Venables has been in football a long time. He can surely never have suffered such misery on both sides of the world on the same day.

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