Having recently caught Tottenham in celebratory mood after winning the Carling Cup and beaten them 4-1, Birmingham City hoped to do the same to Portsmouth's FA Cup semi-finalists last night. But despite recovering from Jermain Defoe's two early goals to draw level before half-time, they ultimately paid the penalty for much poor defensive work and were left sitting a single point above the relegation places.
When Fabrice Muamba scored the third goal inside the first nine minutes, the match promised to rival Portsmouth's epic 7-4 win over Reading in September. The defending on both sides was reminiscent of that famous afternoon but the home supporters, with Wembley on their mind, were in forgiving mood.
So was their manager, Harry Redknapp, who said: "I was a bit worried after we gave so much in the Cup game on Saturday." Birmingham's Alex McLeish had mixed feelings about a first defeat in five games. "It was a spirited performance to come back," he said, "but we were disappointed with such a start, then losing a soft third goal. Every game is huge for us now and if we beat Newcastle next Monday we'll go above them."
Debate among home supporters before the game centred on whether it was better to rest players in order to avoid injury or suspension ahead of the semi-final. Redknapp left Lassana Diara and Kanu in the dugout until the last 20 minutes, though the extraordinary start suggested he was hardly weakening his side by bringing in Defoe, Milan Baros as his striking partner and Pedro Mendes in midfield.
It was the new attacking pair who conjured up and converted the two early goals between them. Birmingham followers in place at the Milton end after six minutes' play were understandably furious that when Baros's driven cross hit David Murphy, the referee, Steve Tanner, pointed to the penalty spot. Defoe rolled his kick past Maik Taylor. Two minutes later the goalkeeper saved well from first Sulley Muntari and then Baros, only for Defoe to jab the rebound back past him.
But before Birmingham heads had time to drop, Liam Ridgewell got his to Sebastian Larsson's corner and Fabrice Muamba was able to score his first goal of the season at the far post. Taylor, receiving no protection from those in front of him, turned Muntari's free-kick wide, but in the next episode of a remarkably open game Glen Johnson fouled Mikael Forssell 20 yards out and Sebastian Larsson curled the free-kick past David James.
Birmingham then allowed the home side back in front within four minutes of the second half starting. Another set piece provided the opportunity, Muntari again swinging in a free-kick from the right that Ridgewell could only knock into the path of Hermann Hreidarsson, who prodded in.
With neither manager entirely satisfied with the way things were going, Diarra and Kanu were sent on for Portsmouth, James McFadden and Cameron Jerome for the visitors. Jerome came close, forcing James to a fine save as he met Larsson's cross on the volley. But in added time, one Portsmouth substitute, Lauren, started a move that finished with another, Kanu, heading Mendes' cross into an empty net.
Goals: Defoe pen (6) 1-0; Defoe (9) 2-0; Muamba (10) 2-1; Larsson (40) 2-2; Hreidarsson (49) 3-2; Kanu (90) 4-2.
Portsmouth (4-1-3-2): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson;Mendes, Diop (Diarra, 61), Muntari, Kranjcar; Defoe, Baros (Kanu, 72). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Lauren, Utaka.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Kelly, Ridgewell, Jaidi, Murphy; Larsson, Johnson, Muamba, McSheffrey; Forssell (Jerome, 72), Zarate (McFadden, 61). Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Nafti, Parnaby.
Referee: S Tanner (Somerset).
Booked: Birmingham Zarate.
Man of the match: Muntari.
Attendance: 20,138.Reuse content