Yakubu (44) LuaLua (62) Ayegbeni (73,pen) John (67)
As I do, on occasions, I've decided against reporting on the game too much, as you all know what happened from reading other reports, listening to the radio, watching the TV or speaking to your mate Dave who was at the game. For the record, Maik Taylor was sent off, Dejan Stefanovic scored a free-kick, Lomana Tresor Lua-Lua made it 2-0, Stern John gave ten man Blues a lifeline, but Kenny Cunningham conceded a penalty that Yakuba Ayegbeni converted to settle the game 3-1.
Here, in nice little sections, are various bits of my thoughts and analysis on a dreadful Blues performance and some other things:
On saturday against Manchester United, both Stan Lazaridis and Martin Grainger were injured. However, Lazaridis was the only one of those two who started the game, at left-back. As such, with both those players out, and Jamie Clapham ready to come in, it seemed logical that Clapham would play left-back. Well, Clapham did play, but on the left side of midfield. Stephen Clemence was dropped again, and Olivier Tebily came in and started at right back, which meant Martin Taylor, Kenny Cunningham and Matthew Upson all shifted across a position to the left, and Bryan Hughes went back into the middle of the park. In a more straight-forward change, Steve Bruce swapped like-for-like up front by leaving out Clinton Morrison and starting Stern John.
The striking change, whilst surprising, can be accepted - it was one striker for another. The other decisions seem baffling though. With one left-back out and one fit again, why not just swap the two? Why did Bruce feel the need to shuffle around the whole of the defence and half of the midfield? What was the purpose? Within 10 minutes, Tebily had been moved into the middle to man-to-man mark Eyal Berkovic, leaving Blues playing three at the back, with Damien Johnson and Clapham almost as wing backs. Again, why did we feel the need to give Berkovic such special treatment? He is a good, influential midfielder, but Blues have played a rigid 4-4-2 all season, and not adjusted their formation to suit any other team or player, including the likes of Paul Scholes, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, etc, etc. Why did we here?
The team selection and tactics seemed wrong to me. The only necessary change was Clapham for Lazaridis, and John for Morrison didn't involve too much reshuffling. What happened though, was a lot of players playing out of position, or in positions in which they haven't played for several games, and this can only have contributed to the disjointed performance. Bruce gets an awful lot of things right, but I feel he got this wrong.
Quite simply Blues were woeful. They matched up to the Sunderland and Leicester performances, and bottled a game that could have been really meaningful, and just didn't show up. Not one player deserves special mention for playing well, as not one player did. Too many players in the Blues side seemed to think that 'hey, we're 6th, we're near the end of the season, we've exceeded all expectations, we've got injuries - let's relax'.
Well Blues fans are fairly decent fans, and whilst not taking it lightly, can accept a defeat if you've had a go, or if you've been beaten by a superior side (case in both points, saturday versus Manchester United). What they won't take, though, is players not even having a go, and making a struggling side who didn't exactly hit top form themselves, look like Brazil.
Stern John was given a lot of stick from the Blues fans throughout this game (a rare start) for his lack of contribution and laziness (as lots of people see it). I can totally understand that, as for pretty much the whole game, he was ineffective and contributed little.
One fact remains though - he scored. I would hazard a guess that John has been on the pitch about 30% of the amount of time that Clinton Morrison has been on the pitch this season. John now has three league goals, and after 27 league appearances, including a lot of starts, Morrison has 2 league goals.
A decision has to be made as to which people would prefer. Obviously somewhere in between seems preferable - a player who contributes to the team and scores goals. However, Morrison's contribution as a whole needs to be weighed up against that of John's. You're basically left with one hard worker who creates one or two goals but can't score himself against one lethargic striker who can create goals (see last season) and can score himself. It's all well and good slating Stern John for a terrible performance today, but I'll say it again - he scored.
And for those of you who think I'm being biassed, well, given the choice I probably would opt for Stern John, but I'm not for one second claiming that he's the answer to all our problems. I just think at this moment in time, until we sign a striker or two, I'd opt for him.
Referee Barry Knight
People reading this will see that I'm about to talk about the referee, and assume I'm going to blame him for our defeat. Well, far from it. I thought he was awful, but so were Blues, and the deserving team won.
What I do want to complain about is consistency. We can all accept that referees will make mistakes, and miss things, and perhaps get things wrong. However, they have a rule book to adhere to, and surely they should stick to it. Mr Knight seemed to make it up as he went along, and I'm actually suggesting that the decisions he made favoured Blues rather than Portsmouth, so by no means is it sour grapes.
Incident 1 surrounds the first goal and Maik Taylor's sending off. The two Taylor's got into a mess and Maik Taylor handled the ball outside the area. Before blowing his whistle though, Portsmouth went on to score. After this, Mr Knight went over to his assistant who had flagged for Maik Taylor's indiscretion. Now, I think that the referee didn't know what to do - he didn't know the rules. When does it ever happen that a 'keeper handles the ball outside the area, but the attacking team still scores in the move? Very, very rarely. The referee just didn't know what to do, so sent Taylor off (which I wouldn't argue with - it is the rule) but then gave a free-kick on the edge of the area. Surely the same advantage rule that applies to fouls applies to handballs too? Surely you can still then go back and card the player, as with a foul? Surely it should have been a goal in the first place and a red card?
Well, it wasn't, it was a free-kick. Blues got lucky in this, in my opinion, and as such should have done everything to keep the free-kick out. Ian Bennett (who replaced Tebily) set up a wall so he could cover his right hand post, and still got beat at it by the free-kick a minute before half-time. Blues should have been cheating to make sure they got in at 0-0, and Bennett - even though he'd only just come on - is experienced enough to cope with mediocre free-kicks.
Incident 2 was Portsmouth's penalty for their third goal. Without going on for ages again, Cunningham had been booked, and the penalty was awarded for him clearing Yakubu's cross with his hands. Surely this is a bookable offence? The decision surely had to be a penalty and a second yellow card for Cunningham or no penalty? You can't just decide to make up your own rules and go half and half.
Like I say, referees have a difficult job, and will make mistakes. They shouldn't make mistakes about rules of the game though. And as I say, that's me almost advocating two decisions that should have gone Portsmouth's way, so it shows how bad it must have been!
On this performance, no chance in hell. A top ten finish looks beyond Blues with displays like this. Blues have had a magnificent season, and the fans know that even 8th would be a great position to finish in - Europe really is a bit of a dream. However, to let things just fall away without giving it a go would be a huge, huge disappointment. Everyone knows we have a tough last few games, but that's no excuse to simply not turn up. As I say, the fans can take losing if you've been outplayed or you've had a go. This wasn't acceptable though.