In a scruffy game at Fratton Park last night, neither side ever did quite enough to earn the victory required to enhance their ambitions. Birmingham City remain the better placed of the two in the crush that is the top half of the First Division, though a victory would have been particularly welcome to Mick Mills and Jim Barron, who have been minding the shop since Trevor Francis was sacked a fortnight ago.
"I'm sure there's been a flood of applications and a few phone calls have probably been made, but from our point of view, we just want to keep things going and give the board time to make a considered decision," Mills said.
One of those calls was to Crystal Palace, whose abrasive chairman Simon Jordan has refused the Midlands club permission to approach his manager of five months Steve Bruce, their first choice as successor.
Mills had told his understrength team that their first task was to quieten the home crowd, which they achieved with a goal after 25 minutes, only to set the Pompey Chimes ringing again by conceding an equaliser before half-time.
There was, in truth, little to shout about early on and after a home defeat by Preston three days earlier, and only one Portsmouth goal in the previous three games, the crowd were prone to impatience. A header by Lee Mills, which Darren Purse cleared for a corner, was the only encouraging moment until a defensive lapse brought groans all round and a goal for the visitors.
Linvoy Primus and Kevin Harper fell into a catastrophic muddle that allowed Birmingham's Brazilian striker Marcelo to break free and unleash a fearsome drive past Dave Beasant from fully 30 yards. Beasant, who is now 42 years young and under pressure from the new Japanese goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, could do little about it.
Portsmouth's other notable import, Robert Prosinecki, was again outstanding in the home colours, and threatening with all his set pieces. A low free-kick past the wall after 35 minutes was only just saved by Nico Vaesen. However, he was then beaten five minutes later by Lee Bradbury's glancing header from another well-placed Prosinecki free-kick.
The wooden main stand one of the Nationwide League's older edifices was shook again early in the second half as Courtney Pitt, a young wing-back signed from Chelsea in the close-season, twice opened up the Birmingham defence. Harper could not take advantage on either occasion, and with Mills growing tired in his first game of the season, the absence of Peter Crouch, the 6ft 7in beanpole who had scored eight goals before his recent injury, became all the more telling.
Birmingham began to press again, with Stan Lazaridis coming into the game at last, but Horsfield, set up by the Australian, delayed too long and Marcelo put a free header straight at Beasant.
Both sides could have done with some inspiration from the substitutes' bench, but the lack of realistic options illustrated how thin the respective squads are at present. Unusually the game finished with the same 22 players on the pitch who had started.
Portsmouth (3-4-1-2): Beasant; Primus, Hiley, Edinburgh; Crowe, Harper, O'Neil, Pitt; Prosinecki; Mills, Bradbury. Substitutes not used: Kawaguchi (gk), Waterman, Brady, Vine, Pettefer.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Vaesen; Eaden, Purse, Johnson, Grainger; Luntala, Sonner, Woodhouse, Lazaridis, Horsfield, Marcelo. Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Holdsworth, Burrows, Hyde, Ferrari.
Referee: W Jordan (Tring).Reuse content