Three games to preserve Premiership status and reputation, three games to protect the livelihoods of those who serve Birmingham City without the fame or financial reward that drives co-owner David Sullivan to public distraction. A time for Steve Bruce's side to dare. Instead, the only bravery evident on Merseyside this weekend came from the visiting supporter who meandered along Goodison Road before kick-off wearing an England shirt with "Gerrard 4" on his back.
With two games to go, Birmingham now depend on one of the twists or turns inherent in every relegation struggle for survival having slipped back into the bottom three. "Unfortunately, it's no longer in our own hands, but we're still in with a chance and we've got to be prepared if it does go to the last kick on the last day," conceded Bruce (right), who did not witness one meaningful attack from his players in the second half and could be relegated by defeat against club Newcastle this Saturday. "Given the season we've had, it would not surprise me if Michael Owen returned for that."
Bruce could offer valid explanations for the lacklustre performance , which did not produce the defeat it merited but handed the initiative to Portsmouth all the same. Emile Heskey, Jermaine Pennant and Julian Gray were carrying injuries but, for once, alternatives were available in Mikael Forssell and the inexperienced D J Campbell, both of whom remained on the bench until the 68th minute.
Harder to excuse or comprehend was an approach that grew increasingly conservative on a day when Bruce's priority had been to equal Portsmouth's anticipated victory over Sunderland.
"You could see their fighting qualities in the second half, but they were happy with a point and we should have been two or three goals up by half-time" said Everton's Phil Neville, who could see the "inspirational figure" of his former Manchester United captain, Bruce, and the West Bromwich manager, Bryan Robson, "my ultimate football hero", both relegated.
"I hope they both stay up," Neville added. "Jobs and careers are on the line if you go down into the Championship. The wages aren't as big but it's not as bad for the players, the staff who are affected more."
Everton were dominant, their football expansive, particularly from Leon Osman and Andy van der Meyde on the flanks, but it illustrated their failings in the final third that they engineered as many clear openings as their stale opponents. David Moyes' side have again hit the wall at Easter and are set to finish with the lowest League goals tally in the club's 128-year history. A minor inconvenience compared to the problems at St Andrew's.
Everton (4-4-2): Wright; Neville, Weir, Yobo, Naysmith; Osman, Davies, Cahill (Kilbane, h-t), Van der Meyde (Ferguson, 68); Beattie, McFadden (Anichebe, 84). Substitutes not used: Turner (gk), Stubbs.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Martin Taylor, Sadler; Pennant (Campbell, 68), Butt, Johnson, Gray; Sutton, Heskey (Forssell, 68). Substitutes not used: Vaesen (gk), Nafti, Bruce.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Booked: Birmingham City Melchiot, Cunningham, Sadler, Butt.
Man of the match: Osman.
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