Newcastle United attempted to mount a demonstration of the power of the Geordie nation last night but all the flags and songs in the world cannot camouflage a poor team. Newcastle once again proved that is what they are. They have six wins from 33 league games. Alan Shearer, no less, had billed this as one of the biggest nights in Newcastle's modern history but there was no corresponding upping of performance level and the occasion petered out. Shearer, the great goalscorer, has seen his new charges find the net once in six hours.
Michael Owen had the sort of chance in the 63rd minute that he would once have converted without thinking, but Owen is a reduced figure and privately Shearer's faith in him must be at its limit. If not, Shearer will share the responsibility.
Obafemi Martins also had a moment of opportunity shortly before half-time, but blasted over David James's crossbar. So it could have been different.
At least the point gained – and it was fortunate given that Portsmouth's Richard Hughes hit the post in the 82nd minute – took Newcastle above Middlesbrough. But Newcastle remain third-bottom and travel to Anfield next, where they have not won a league game for 15 years. There is hope in that Newcastle are only three points off Hull City, and Hull's goal difference is worse, but there is not confidence.
Shearer took some consolation from opportunities created. He had fielded Mark Viduka alongside Owen and Martins and with Viduka stabbing a shot at James 40 seconds into the second half, Shearer could say: "The three players I wanted up there all had one chance each and you'd expect one of them to take one. But they didn't."
In relegation terms, Shearer accepted that Newcastle "are relying on others – but I don't know whether that will be a good point or a bad point. I don't know the points total needed to stay up."
Portsmouth knew their point was a good one. It moved them seven clear of relegation and caretaker manager Paul Hart was impressed. "It was a very tough game," Hart said, "Newcastle tried to throw the kitchen sink at it. But we were disciplined." Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin were resolute in central defence, while Nadir Belhadj and Glen Johnson were swift and purposeful in possession.
That description did not apply to any Newcastle player. It took half an hour for the crowd to be roused by Newcastle's attack. Substitute Danny Guthrie had a shot diverted by Viduka and eight minutes later Damien Duff rattled James. Six more followed and Martins jumped with Campbell for a Butt cross; the ball dropped on the Nigerian's weaker right foot and he smacked it over.
But it was something. Viduka then hit James but that was nothing compared to Owen's miss. Viduka scooped the ball to Owen, who was suddenly one-on-one with James. But in front of Franco Baldini, Fabio Capello's assistant, Owen scuffed a shot straight at James. It felt like a big moment in Owen's career and in Newcastle's season.
Portsmouth, meanwhile, kept going. Peter Crouch appeared to have been upended by Fabricio Coloccini in the Newcastle area five minutes after the interval – "a penalty definitely," Hart said, "Peter Crouch doesn't dive."
Crouch then should have scored before Hughes's header bounced back off a post. A bleak night for Newcastle, but it could have been worse.
Newcastle United (4-3-3): Harper; Beye, Coloccini, Bassong, Enrique (Guthrie 28); Smith, Butt (Gutierrez, 71), Duff; Viduka (Carroll, 64) Owen, Martins. Substitutes not used: Krul, Edgar, Barton, Lovenkrands.
Portsmouth (4-5-1): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Nugent (Pennant, 65), Mullins, Davis, Hughes, Belhadj; Crouch. Substitutes not used: Begovic, Bassinas, Utaka, Cranie, Pamarot, Kanu.
Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Newcastle Bassong; Portsmouth Hreidarsson, Johnson.
Man of the match: Distin.