Middlesbrough have won only once in 17 matches and will need to improve a good deal in the coming weeks if they are not to drop out of the Premier League after 11 straight seasons. Yet, at a stage in the season when few points are gained without a fight, they will embrace the hope that Marlon King's last-gasp equaliser might be the one that makes all the difference.
It at least spared manager Gareth Southgate the full wrath of the home crowd, who had booed his players off at half-time as Portsmouth had threatened to raise the pressure he is under close to breaking point. In front through Peter Crouch's first-half goal, Portsmouth looked to have done enough to ease their own relegation worries with only a second win in 14 matches as Southgate's toothless attack threatened to draw a blank for the seventh time in eight.
Boro, for whom Tuncay Sanli stood out, threw every ounce of effort towards David James's goal in a second half in which Pompey did little other than drop further and further into their own territory. They looked to have completed the job as the fourth official showed four minutes of stoppage time until King struck in the third of those, forcing the ball over the line after James had made a brilliant save from David Wheater's header.
It was a hard blow for the visitors to swallow, although for sheer will in the face of a hostile home crowd, Middlesbrough deserved their reward.
Southgate, whose natural inclination is to concede that fans have a right to their opinion, could not hide his disappointment, particularly when the crowd chose to express their appreciation of Tuncay by chanting, "We've only got one player." "That was disrespectful and hurtful to the others," he said. "They were right to applaud Tuncay but if we are to stay up it will be through a collective effort and we need everyone to be together. I felt for a period the crowd gave up on us so for the players to show the character and resilience they produced was brilliant."
Middlesbrough's fightback succeeded despite having Matthew Bates sent off for a second yellow with 13 minutes left, yet their spirited ending, with James needing to be at his best to keep them out until King struck, contrasted hugely with the first hour, in which they failed to draw a save from the England goalkeeper. After David Nugent had hit the post for Portsmouth, Crouch put them ahead, pivoting to drive home from 15 yards.
But Southgate's players refused to give up and might even have won with the last kick when James saved at the feet of substitute Afonso Alves.Reuse content