What a shame Fabio Capello was elsewhere assessing prospects for his England squad as David James put on one of his spectacular shows to prove that, at 37, he remains one of the best goalkeepers in the land. Certainly Plymouth would have won this fourth round Cup-tie, hyped in the programme as the "battle of the two major Royal Navy ports" but for his excellence.
Argyle had the bigger guns, the more committed players, the bulk of the action. But James was equal to the challenge after letting in a fifth-minute goal, as his defence, minus the injured Sol Campbell, buckled against the electric pace of Jermaine Easter and the creative Rory Fallon.
In midfield, too, only the newly-arrived Lassana Diarra stopped Portsmouth being overrun. His team, said an admiring manager Paul Sturrock, "were fantastic from start to finish. Only superb goalkeeping won the day for Portsmouth."
But even James could not prevent Plymouth, who were Cup quarter-finalists last season, from taking that early lead. A well worked move with a bit of luck saw David Norris's blocked shot spin away to Chris Clark, whose instant shot found the net off Hermann Hreidarsson and the underside of the bar.
It would have been two a minute later had James not plunged to his left to turn away one-handed Fallon's effort and before Portsmouth had got their breath the keeper made two more fine stops, from Easter and Peter Helmosi, before dashing out of his area to head away from the onrushing Easter.
It took Portsmouth half an hour to get any measure of the opposition and then promptly equalised. Pedro Mendes exchanged passes with Niko Kranjcar at a short corner before squaring the ball across the face of the penalty box for Diarra to drive in from 20 yards.
Undeservedly, Portsmouth took the lead right on half-time as Glen Johnson lofted a short centre that rebounded from Paul Connolly's body to permit Kranjcar to poke the ball home.
As Argyle came at Pompey with renewed vigour in the second half it was James again who stood between them and victory, saving in rapid succession from Norris, Halmosi and Easter. Harry Redknapp admitted; "James was outstanding today, and needed to be at times."
Towards the end referee Andre Marriner rejected a penalty appeal as a bouncing shot by Fallon struck Sylvain Distin on both arms. An added time miss by substitute Lukas Jutkiewicz was the better penalty shout, said Sturrock. "He was pulled back. Some weeks it would have been given." The story of Plymouth's day, really.Reuse content