Pompey fightback has Robson questioning side's belief

Portsmouth 3 - West Bromwich Albion 2
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The Independent Online

With fewer than five minutes to go, the gap between these sides was just five points and five places. At the end it was 11 points and 11 places. Such is football. The margin of error is that small, although judging by the mistakes made in this encounter, it appeared as wide as the Solent.

With fewer than five minutes to go, the gap between these sides was just five points and five places. At the end it was 11 points and 11 places. Such is football. The margin of error is that small, although judging by the mistakes made in this encounter, it appeared as wide as the Solent.

The Portsmouth players were "bouncing off the walls" with adrenaline afterwards, according to coach Joe Jordan - who spoke instead of the elusive executive director, Velimir Zajec.

If they were bouncing, West Bromwich Albion were not boinging. This was a wretched result for Bryan Robson's side, not least because they should have recorded their first away win of the season. Robson was choked.

A win would have kept West Brom in the bottom three only on goals scored. Defeat rooted them to last place with Robson reading the proverbial riot act and wondering whether the squad he inherited has the stomach for the fight. Three defeats and a draw in his first four games in charge does not bode well and the loss owed more to their inability to finish off a wounded opponent than it did to Portsmouth's passionate, frenzied finale.

Jordan, who despite his management experience is not keen to succeed Harry Redknapp, hit the nail on the head when saying that instead of being sucked into the relegation scrap, Portsmouth were looking up. "It was a big game for both teams and to lose must be a hard one for them to take," he said.

That other former Manchester United player agreed and added that too many had gone missing when his side were 2-1 up and in need of cool heads. "They didn't have the belief," was Robson's verdict.

Jordan was also right in saying that the result will hopefully "settle things down" after the turmoil of Redknapp's departure. "It is six points out of six," he said, referring back to the victory over Bolton Wanderers "and it gives time to make the right decision." The last time Pompey were in this position - between Alan Ball's departure in 1999 and Tony Pulis's arrival - the hiatus lasted six weeks and they took just one point from 12 in the old First Division and were dumped out of the FA Cup.

Milan Mandaric, the chairman who dismissed Ball, wants a head coach by Christmas and is thinking British. Names have been bandied about. He would love Iain Dowie, but although Crystal Palace's manager was at this match, it was merely to scout future opponents. Wigan's Paul Jewell and Swindon's Andy King have also been mentioned, with Mandaric insisting that Zajec will not take the post.

Two substitutions by the Croatian worked. He also discarded the strange formation he imposed for the crushing League Cup defeat at Watford, but Portsmouth fell behind when Dejan Stefanovic turned Neil Clement's cross into his own net. They levelled when Darren Purse returned the favour from Stefanovic's curling centre. Before then, Portsmouth had been denied a penalty when Matthew Taylor was bundled over, while David Unsworth's lob had clipped the bar. On half-time the home side fell behind after a bizarre mix-up in their area allowed Riccardo Scimeca to square and Robert Earnshaw to tap in his fifth goal in five games.

Portsmouth rarely looked like coming back until, with time running out, Eyal Berkovic arrived and it was his free-kick which was powered in by Arjan de Zeeuw. Then, with seconds left, Berkovic picked out the other substitute, Lomana LuaLua, marginally on-side, and, improbably, he smashed the ball past Russell Hoult.

Goals: Stefanovic (14og) 0-1; Purse (35og) 1-1; Earnshaw (45) 1-2; De Zeeuw (85) 2-2; LuaLua (89( 3-2.

Portsmouth (4-4-1-1): Ashdown; Griffin, De Zeeuw, Stefanovic, Unsworth (Primus, 26); Stone, Faye, Quashie (Berkovic, 80), Taylor (LuaLua, 55); Berger; Fuller. Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Cissé.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Hoult; Scimeca, Moore, Purse, Clement; Haas (Gaardsoe, 66), Johnson, Greening, Gera (Sakiri, 70); Kanu, Earnshaw (Hulse, 77). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Koumas.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

Booked: West Brom: Moore, Hoult.

Man of the match: De Zeeuw.

Attendance: 20,110.

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