After such a turbulent season following the departure of Harry Redknapp, survival will be the height of Portsmouth's ambitions in the remaining weeks of the campaign. Zajec has been steadily rebuilding, though many of the Pompey faithful have not been encouraged by the club's efforts in the January transfer window. It has been a busy time on the South Coast, with a month of wheeling and dealing of which Redknapp would have been proud - had the better players not apparently been heading in the wrong direction.
In particular, the sale of Nigel Quashie to Southampton for pounds 2.1m and Amdy Faye to Newcastle United for pounds 2m looks likely to leave Portsmouth short on quality in midfield. Their answer here was to move the ball forward as quickly as possible to their dangerous front men, Ayegbeni Yakubu and Ricardo Fuller. The former in particular was always a handful as he ran at the home defence with speed and power.
Middlesbrough, who have yet to win in the Premiership this year, played a more controlled passing game and had marginally the better of the opening half. Ray Parlour and Boudewijn Zenden imposed their authority on the centre of midfield and Stewart Downing's pace and trickery provided a constant threat.
The first two goals came from almost identical mistakes at either end of the pitch. Konstantinos Chalkias, on his Premiership debut following his move from Panathinaikos, failed to hold Parlour's long-range shot after 34 minutes and Malcolm Christie, returning from injury, was first to the rebound. It was the former Derby County striker's first Premiership goal for 17 months.
Five minutes later, however, Portsmouth were back in the game. Mark Schwarzer failed to hold Matty Taylor's shot and the midfielder made no mistake with his second chance after Aliou Cisse had laid the ball back to him.
With Middlesbrough forced to reorganise following an injury to Colin Cooper, Michael Reiziger moving to the centre of the defence, Portsmouth started to take control. Patrik Berger drove into the side netting twice within six minutes of the restart and Schwarzer had to be on his guard to keep out Taylor's driven cross.
Parlour wasted an excellent opportunity to restore the visitors' lead after 50 minutes, playing a clever one-two with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink before shooting tamely at Chalkias, and seven minutes later Portsmouth scored their winner. Fuller had been very much the junior partner in the home attack, but he created space for himself with a jinking run down the left and whipped in a dangerous cross. Frank Queudrue and Yakubu both lunged at the ball, which flew into the net.
Middlesbrough at last found some rhythm towards the end and forced a series of corners, but a relieved Portsmouth held out. The three points could be invaluable in the weeks ahead, as Joe Jordan, the assistant manager, admitted.
"It's a huge win," Jordan said. "It gives everybody confidence. You have to get points to go with the performance. We've now got 30 points, which puts us 12 points clear of the relegation places."
Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager, was not disheartened by his team's display, though he was concerned about the extent of Cooper's leg injury.
"The boys gave everything they had," he said. "They kept going. We're just not getting the rub of the green at the moment, but that will change."
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Chalkias; Primus, Stefanovic, De Zeeuw, Taylor; O'Neil, Cisse, Hughes, Berger (Rodic, 81); Fuller (Skopelitis, 73), Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Curtis, Ashdown (gk), Mezague.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Reiziger, Southgate, Cooper (McMahon, 29; Graham, 81), Queudrue; Parlour, Morrison, Zenden, Downing; Christie (Job, 66), Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Doriva.
Referee: P Crossley (Kent).Reuse content