Lethal Unsworth rescues Pompey

Portsmouth 1 - Birmingham City 1
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The Independent Football

On the first day of the season Harry Redknapp didn't want to whinge about Portsmouth desperately needing new players. But he did. Steve Bruce didn't want to "bleat" about referees' inconsistency. But he did. And we didn't want to be reminded that any claim by the Premiership to be the greatest in-depth quality league in Europe is bunkum. But we were.

On the first day of the season Harry Redknapp didn't want to whinge about Portsmouth desperately needing new players. But he did. Steve Bruce didn't want to "bleat" about referees' inconsistency. But he did. And we didn't want to be reminded that any claim by the Premiership to be the greatest in-depth quality league in Europe is bunkum. But we were.

It was a moderately exciting, yet absolutely appalling, game played on a fine pitch and in such strength-sapping weather that it should have been an invitation to display ball control, individual skills and constructive passing: as one would find, for example, in any lower table Spanish league game. Did we get any of it? Not a chance.

By a small margin, Birmingham were better. And so they should have been after spending£9m on players this summer.

Portsmouth are in for another difficult season, relying on Redknapp's ability to turn a crisis into a local difficulty. His purchase of Lomana LuaLua was a gamble, but could pay off and David Unsworth is going to be an inspiration. But Redknapp said: "You can't get through a season in the Premiership without more and better players."

For the first 15 minutes you would not have given Portsmouth a chance. They were a goal down to a Savage free-kick but Birmingham relaxed. On 16 minutes, though, Portsmouth were awarded a penalty when Stan Lazaridis gave Steve Stone a shove. Unsworth scored on his debut.

Led at the front by LuaLua and Yakubu, Portsmouth were actually the more positive team, but their midfield work was tame. They were also sadly deficient in their finishing. Yakubu, particularly, wasted inviting chances, though the Birmingham goalkeeper, Maik Taylor, had to take credit for a couple of extraordinary saves.

Bruce may have been reluctant to "bleat" about the referee but soon warmed to the idea, rightly saying that a handball in the penalty area by Linvoy Primus near the end had been obvious to everyone else in the ground.

On the other hand, a wonderful catch by Shaka Hislop nearer the finish guaranteed that neither side had too much to complain about, which is more than could be said by anyone interested in football.

Goals: Savage (10) 0-1; Unsworth (pen 16) 1-1.

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Hislop: Primus, De Zeeuw, Stefanovic, Unsworth; Stone (Griffin, 85), Quashie, Hughes, Berger (Taylor, 81); Yakubu, LuaLua. Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Berkovic, O'Neill.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Martin Taylor, Upson, Lazaridis; Gronkjaer (Gray, 67), Savage, Izzet, Johnson; Forssell (Morrison), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), John, Clapham.

Referee: H Webb (Rotherham).

Booked: Portsmouth: Hughes, Unsworth. Birmingham City: Izzet, Lazaridis, Savage, Martin Taylor.

Man of the match: Izzet

Attendance: 20,021.

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