Bruce tried to defend his former Manchester United team-mate, and confronted the referee, Dermot Gallagher, and Bernard Baker, the linesman who drew his attention to the offence, at half-time, but there was no disguising the fact that Butt, as though enacting a moment of Buster Keaton slapstick, had aimed a kick at Dario Silva's rear as the two jostled for position before a free-kick.
"What I can't understand," Bruce said, "is if he sends Butt off for flicking out a foot that misses, why was the other guy not sent off for raising his arm? There's people paid good money today and we like to see a bit of fisticuffs. In my day the referee would have had a quiet word and that would have been the end of it. The game's in danger of being neutered."
Whether Butt did actually miss is debatable, but if he did, his incompetence was entirely in keeping with a poor game. After an early flurry that brought a goal each inside six minutes, the Butt-on-butt action was the highlight of the first half. Amid all the hand-wringing about declining attendances and the apparent deflation of the football bubble, one of the major factors cited as contributing to the decline has been the increasing use of the 4-5-1 formation. Yesterday Portsmouth and Birmingham proved that it is still perfectly possible to play tedious football with a traditional 4-4-2.
Both early goals were the result of dreadful marking. Lomana LuaLua bundled Portsmouth in front as a Laurent Robert corner dropped to him at the near post after four minutes, only for Jiri Jarosik to convert a Jermaine Pennant free-kick with a powerful header two minutes later. Thereafter it was drab, bitty football that spoke volumes about why both sides began the day averaging less than a point a game. LuaLua, with his trickery and surging arabesques, threatened occasionally, but he seemed to have no understanding with Silva whatsoever.
Even with the extra man, it was only after the arrival of the Serbian substitute Zvonimir Vukic, an oasis of class in a very barren desert, that Portsmouth began to create chances. Gary O'Neil, neatly set up by Robert, drew a fine diving save from Maik Taylor, and the goalkeeper did well to parry from Silva a couple of minutes later. Vukic blazed over from close range and O'Neil stabbed wide in the closing seconds after Taylor had fumbled a Robert free-kick, but the chance that the Portsmouth manager, Alain Perrin, chose to focus on was one that was denied them.
With 63 minutes played, Silva spun into the box, only to be hauled back by Oliver Tebily, who had such a grasp of his shirt that the Uruguayan resembled an excited puppy straining at the leash. "For sure that was a penalty," Perrin said. "Everybody in the stadium saw it was a penalty; only one man did not. But after that we had many chances to score. We were unlucky - I don't know how many shots we had."
Half a dozen would be a reasonable estimate, which was nowhere near enough.Reuse content