Tony Mowbray is not giving up hope of survival but is already thinking ahead to life after relegation. "If the worst comes to the worst we will keep going in the Championship, play our way out of it and come back, hopefully with a good crop of players who have been through this experience and know what it's about," West Bromwich Albion's manager said after Saturday's entertaining draw at Fratton Park.
Mowbray's men probably need to win at least four of their last six games to stand any chance of survival, but this match provided further evidence of their qualities. Albion showed plenty of attacking flair, even if their defensive frailties were also clear.
The frustration for Mowbray is in having to compete against teams who have spent millions more than him on their squads. Nevertheless, he recognises the sense of Albion's prudence, particularly in comparison with clubs like Portsmouth, whose spending could be storing up future financial problems.
"They pay salaries of Premier League footballers, or they buy players of Premier League quality," Mowbray said. "As a coach, it is up to me to manage and get the best out of my players, not put the club in jeopardy long-term. There is a balance between having better players on the pitch and competing better but having a huge debt.
"We will be strong next season. If it is in the Championship we carry no debt and don't need to sell any players. So if we do go into the Championship we can keep these players."
Albion did not look like a side which had taken only three points from their last nine matches. They attacked with flair and took the lead despite going behind to Younes Kaboul's first-half curler. Jonathan Greening equalised from close range and Chris Brunt's deflected 25-yard strike offered hope of a rare away win before the excellent Niko Kranjcar salvaged a point with a fine free-kick from 25 yards.
Portsmouth have lost only once – at home to Chelsea – in the seven games since Paul Hart took temporary charge, but were not at their best here and are still in the relegation dogfight. "My job is to get us across the line and it is possible it could go to the last game of the season, but I hope not," Hart said.
Goals: Kaboul (33) 1-0; Greening (48) 1-1; Brunt (62) 1-2; Kranjcar (65) 2-2.
Portsmouth (4-2-3-1): James; Kaboul, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Mullins, Hughes; Pennant (Gekas, 90), Kranjcar, Nugent (Belhadj, 64); Crouch. Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Pamarot, Utaka, Kanu, Basinas.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-1-1): Carson; Zuiverloon (Hoefkens, 77), Meité, Olsson, Robinson; Koren, Dorrans, Morrison (Woods, 75), Greening; Brunt (Mulumbu, 81); Fortuné. Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), Menseguez, Borja Valero, Simpson.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Portsmouth Hreidarsson, Kranjcar, Kaboul; West Bromwich Dorrans.
Man of the match: Kranjcar.