Asked to explain a run of low scores, the England batsman, Allan Lamb, replied in his broad South African tones: "I'm in good form, it's just that I keep getting out."
It is the same with Portsmouth. It is not that the Premier League's bottom side have played particularly badly, they just keep getting beaten. The goal from Ricardo Fuller that condemned Paul Hart's side to their 10th defeat of the season came from almost the only coherent attack Stoke mounted in an evening of long balls and short tempers.
Just before Fuller curled his shot into the corner of Jamie Ashdown's net, Tuncay Sanli was warming up, ready to replace a striker whose only impact this season has been in the amount of fines for lateness that have swelled Stoke's charity collection. For some reason – call it managerial instinct – Tony Pulis hesitated and Pompey's fate was sealed. "Ricky looked nervous in our last game at Hull and he was edgy today; he is a confidence player and he hadn't scored this season, but I just held off," said Pulis, who thought the first half was as poor as Stoke had been in the Premier League.
Certainly, Thomas Sorensen had more to save than Ashdown, who was pressed into service when David James injured his calf in the warm-up, something that would concern the England manager, Fabio Capello, who has already expressed concerns about his goalkeeper's fitness. Hart said that since a calf injury usually takes three weeks to heal it was nonsense to suggest James' World Cup place was under threat.
The last time Ashdown had come to the Britannia Stadium, with Norwich City, he had conceded five. Yesterday, he had Fuller's shot and a tame free-kick to deal with. Since Stoke's return to the top flight only two clubs from outside the "big four", Everton and West Ham, have won here; a statistic that made Portsmouth's failure to take their chances, especially the penalty awarded in the seventh minute, all the more galling.
Since Rory Delap had almost decapitated Aruna Dindane, the decision was not in question, although the way Kevin-Prince Boateng took the spot kick summed up everything about Portsmouth. Sorensen once saved a penalty from Alan Shearer at St James' Park in the white heat of a Tyne-Wear derby but, in comparison, this was almost a back pass. Hart's shoulders slumped in a manner that has become too familiar. He will have sensed what was coming.
Stoke City: (4-4-2) Sorensen; Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Collins; Delap, Diao (Lawrence, 57), Whitehead, Etherington; Beattie (Sidibe, 57), Fuller (Tuncay, 84). Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Higginbotham, Whelan, Pugh.
Portsmouth: (4-4-2) Ashdown; Ben Haim, Kaboul, Wilson, Hreidarsson; Brown, O'Hara, Boateng, Mullins (Webber, 80); Kanu, Dindane (Piquionne, 73). Substitutes not used: Williamson, Vanden Borre, Smith, Hughes.
Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).
Booked: Stoke Whitehead; Portsmouth Brown, Mullins.
Man of the match: Lawrence.