If not quite a shock, given Portsmouth's recent form, this goalless draw at a cold and crisp-surfaced Fratton Park was certainly another disappointment for Tony Adams, the FA Cup holders and their supporters. They were all given another signal that their season, like the pound, appears to be sinking beyond easy repair.
A replay at Ashton Gate on 13 January is of little consolation as, with the transfer window now open, retaining their best players may be a higher priority in the coming weeks than hanging on to the old trophy.
Jermain Defoe, whose career has been entwined with that of his mentor, Harry Redknapp, the former Pompey manager, was a notable absentee, along with Glen Johnson and others, and it would be no great surprise if Defoe joined Redknapp at Tottenham Hotspur. Indeed, such was the strength of Portsmouth's concern about the severity of the influenza that forced Defoe to rest at home and miss this game that they sent a doctor to check on him before announcing a squad.
History was on Bristol City's side as they had never lost to Portsmouth in 10 meetings, including two in the FA Cup. That, plus their noisy support behind the Milton End goal, gave them confidence in believing they might secure a first Premier League scalp since eliminating Liverpool after a replay at Anfield in 1994.
"We have to be careful not to become too confident," warned Bristol City manager Gary Johnson, when asked about Pompey's hapless display. "If we step off that pace, they have world-class players who can come into it." He conceded, honestly, that his team had created only a few half-chances, which was true, but that undervalued their contribution.
Pompey's best efforts fell to Sylvain Distin, who had a header saved splendidly and a follow-up shot cleared off the line by Louis Carey, in the first half, and Niko Kranjcar, who headed wastefully wide, in the second when they switched from 4-5-1 to a more potent-looking 4-3-3.
Amazingly, Adams was pleased with his team's performance. "That was a very good result for us today," he said. "We have something to build on now. Defensively, I think we got the balance right. This is a tough competition and I am pleased we are still in it. It was important we kept a clean sheet and I felt we had enough chances to win the game."
Clearly, the former England captain and three-time winner of the FA Cup as an Arsenal player, is an optimist whose glass remains half-full when others see it draining dry, thanks to the debts of more than £90 million that have been accumulated by club owner Alexandre Gaydamak. When asked about Defoe's future, he smiled disingenuously. "He's not well, but hopefully we will see him on Monday. The doctor will give him another call."
Asked to confirm reports that he valued Defoe at £20m, Adams reverted to a straight face. "I don't confirm or deny anything in the press," he answered.
Suspicions that he has started to imitate Arsène Wenger both on the touchline, where he has a similar long-limbed twitchy presence, and in his smoke-and-mirrors relationship with the media had gathered strength before that moment. He probably did not notice, after all, that it was only a diving save by David James, when he tipped over Bradley Orr's header from substitute Dele Adebola's cross, which kept Pompey in the Cup. Monsieur Wenger would have been proud.
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the match: Carey
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content