Butt red card has Bruce lamenting game gone soft

Portsmouth 1 Birmingham City 1
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The Independent Football

"We have got to be really careful," the Birmingham manager said, "because the reason people enjoy the Premiership all over the world is the honesty of it, the openness, the excitement." That holy trinity, he believes, is under threat from a twin-pronged evil: softness and the 4-5-1 formation.

His attack on football's increasing intolerance of "thunder and fisticuffs" had a more specific resonance on Saturday, coming as part of a protest against Nicky Butt's 45th-minute sending off for kicking out at Dario Silva as the two jostled for position ahead of a free-kick. The Uruguayan, bafflingly, was also booked.

"Can anyone explain to me why their guy has got a yellow card?" Bruce asked, suggesting that if there were an offence, it must have been for raising an arm, which should have produced a red card. Butt, he acknowledged, had been petulant, but still insisted the assault was not enough to warrant a dismissal.

The referee, Dermot Gallagher, did not have the most distinguished of afternoons, and turned down an apparently cast-iron appeal for a penalty when Silva was hauled back by Oliver Tebily just after the hour.

The sending-off forced Bruce into a 4-4-1 system. The 4-5-1 that has become the Premiership's formation de jour, he feels, is a worrying trend. "It's because survival is vital," he said. "We are seeing empty seats because people are getting tired and fed up of seeing people playing with one up, playing not to get beat."

For all Bruce's concerns, Saturday proved that tedious football is perfectly possible with two teams playing 4-4-2, even when both sides abandon marking in the opening 10 minutes. Lomana LuaLua nudged Portsmouth in front from a third-minute Laurent Robert corner, only for Jiri Jarosik, equally untended, to equalise from a Jermaine Pennant free-kick.

"Frustrating" was how the Portsmouth manager, Alain Perrin, described his side's inability, for the second successive home game, to take advantage of an extra man. "We have to take points," he said, "because against some of the better teams, it will be difficult." Bruce was not the only one contemplating the apocalypse on Saturday.

Goals: LuaLua (3) 1-0; Jarosik (6) 1-1.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Ashdown; Priske, O'Brien, Stefanovic, Vignal; O'Neil, Hughes (Vukic, 65), Diao, Robert; LuaLua (Karadas, 76), Silva. Substitutes not used: Westerveld (gk), Skopelitis, Viafara.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Tebily, Upson, Cunningham, Johnson; Pennant (Pandiani, 90), Butt, Jarosik (Izzet, 42), Gray; Heskey, Forssell (Clapham, 46). Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Martin Taylor.

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).

Booked: Portsmouth: Silva, Diao. Sent off: Birmingham Butt.

Man of the match: LuaLua.

Attendance: 19,319.

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