Birmingham's bankrupt show piles on agony for Midlands

Birmingham City 0 - Portsmouth 0
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The Independent Football

Kenny Cunningham wanted a rousing victory for Birmingham City to lighten the gloom that has gripped the West Midlands after the collapse of MG Rover. Instead he got a game redundant in terms of entertainment, although Portsmouth were not complaining as they edged nearer the 40-point safety target set by their new manager, Alain Perrin.

Kenny Cunningham wanted a rousing victory for Birmingham City to lighten the gloom that has gripped the West Midlands after the collapse of MG Rover. Instead he got a game redundant in terms of entertainment, although Portsmouth were not complaining as they edged nearer the 40-point safety target set by their new manager, Alain Perrin.

Cunningham, the Birmingham captain, acknowledged that the sound which greeted the final whistle carried a darker resonance than usual after the job losses at Longbridge and among the region's allied industries. "When the fans boo, you accept it," he said. "All the more so in the present climate because you realise how difficult it is for them to come up with the money to see their team play, particularly at Birmingham, because this isn't the cheapest club to watch."

The Republic of Ireland defender explained that some of Birmingham's local-born players had family connected with the plant. "They were telling us about it in the gym," Cunningham said. "It helped us appreciate the seriousness of the situation, how the closure will affect people's lives. It is going to have a ripple effect through the local community.

"This club is part of that community and we appreciate that people are paying their money to watch the team. The onus is on us to do our best for them every time we pull on the jersey. They've paid hard-earned cash to watch us, money they may not have in the foreseeable future."

Cunningham was asked whether Birmingham or their neighbours (Aston Villa sported Rover's name on their shirts under a previous sponsorship deal) could do anything to help those who have lost their livelihoods. "It's difficult to know what we could do," he replied. "We're not talking 10, 20 or 50 jobs, but thousands. Anything we did would be a drop in the ocean. The Government can't even bail them out with their massive resources, so I'm not sure how the players here could make a difference. But we can offer our support to the people involved."

On Monday mornings, Longbridge was usually bubbling with the bragging and barbs of the rival fans. Birmingham supporters would have struggled, however, to put a gloss on this game.

Their club's manager, Steve Bruce, said watching it was "painful, absolute agony - it was crying out for someone to put a foot on the ball and make a pass."

Birmingham's best chance came when Emile Heskey's looping header was kicked off the line by Linvoy Primus. Jamie Ashdown, badly at fault on that occasion, redeemed himself by saving Walter Pandiani's shot with a foot. Yet with a dearth of creativity in midfield, it was not hard to see why Bruce's side have mustered barely a goal a game this season.

Perrin, the former Marseilles coach, has made an instant impact at Portsmouth. Having won his opening match, a first clean sheet in 14 games delivered a first away point since Boxing Day. Gary O'Neil and Richard Hughes nearly won it for them, forcing Maik Taylor into sprawling saves.

They now have home games against Liverpool and Southampton, adding up to what the Frenchman called "a big week" at Fratton Park. One win would virtually seal their survival, and if it pushed their South Coast rivals closer to the drop, so much the better for the Pompey faithful.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Clapham; Pennant, Johnson, Nafti (Carter, 75), Lazaridis (Gray, 59); Pandiani (Morrison, 59), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Blake.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Ashdown; Cissé, Primus, De Zeeuw, Griffin; Stone (Berger, 66), Skopelitis (Mezague, 83), Hughes, O'Neil; Kamara (Fuller, 71), LuaLua. Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Rodic.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: Birmingham City Nafti; Portsmouth Cissé, Kamara.

Man of the match: De Zeeuw.

Attendance: 28,883.

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