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Brave Blues serve up stormer; Portsmouth 1 Birmingham City 1.

What a deluge. What a game. On an afternoon when the south coast was swept by the most spectacular storms, Portsmouth and Birmingham City served up a terrific spectacle of their own.

Each deservedly took a point from a match brimming with passion, incident and fluctuation. This was English football at its full-blooded, knockabout best.

All week, a local radio station had been insisting that Steve Claridge's resurgent team would 'make dummies out of the Brummies'.

Pompey, unbeaten since Claridge took over as manager, duly threw everything at Blues. Trevor Francis's side stayed strong and hurled it back.

Both teams created and spurned copious chances - most notably Martin Grainger's squandered penalty and an 88th-minute header by Lee Bradbury, brilliantly saved by Ian Bennett.

It was hugely enjoyable to watch - especially if you had a roof over your head. At Fratton Park, away fans are denied that luxury. Blues' supporters had to sit and take it as rain lashed down culminating, in the closing minutes, in a wind-whipped deluge of such ferocity that football was reduced to near-slapstick.

The exposed Blue Noses, with glorious stoicism, sang on while the players slithered around the waterlogged turf.

In injury-time, this frenetic match was still thrashing about in search of a decisive twist when Thomas Thogersen chipped over Bennett into Blues' net. The Pompey fans' roar froze in their throats as an offside flag fluttered. Justice was done.

Both teams richly deserved something from this match. Blues emerged with a valuable away point to match the haul of most of their immediate rivals on Saturday.

Francis was happy - up to a point. He knew his side had created enough chances to have won the game.

'It's hard to make much of a judgment because I've never seen conditions like those,' he said. 'If that storm near the end had arrived any earlier, the referee would have had no option but to abandon the game.

'I think both managers will be satisfied with the draw. We had the better chances in the first half but found ourselves a goal behind and had to show great spirit to come back.

'Martin Grainger's penalty was brilliantly saved but 60 seconds later, Nicky Eaden delivered an excellent free-kick - I don't think Dele Adebola got a touch - which put us level.

'Both sides had chances to win it but in the end, the conditions were the only winner.'

Francis's first act at the final whistle was to run to those drenched Blues' supporters and offer applause.

They had, at least, witnessed a pulsating match through the monsoon.

Birmingham went closest to an early goal. Michael Johnson, up for a corner, saw two goalbound efforts inadvertently blocked by team-mate Darren Purse. Andrew Johnson, after a slick breakaway link-up with Eaden, was then denied by Russell Hoult.

At the other end, Bennett dealt capably with long-range efforts from Thorgersen and Shaun Derry but could not get enough hand on Bradbury's powerful header to prevent it finding the top corner.

Blues should have levelled within seconds either side of the interval.

In first-half injury-time, a clever free-kick routine sent O'Connor through on goal but he shot at Hoult. Straight after the break, Adebola's first act as substitute was to head down for Andrew Johnson to chase deep in Pompey's box. Johnson was felled by Linvoy Primus, but Hoult turned Grainger's driven penalty against the bar.

Perhaps the goalkeeper was still feeling mellow about that when, seconds later, he allowed Eaden's free-kick from the touch-line to skid past him off the greasy turf. Hoult was certainly unsighted by Adebola - whether the striker got a touch, only he knows.

Bennett's alertness denied Derry and Ceri Hughes. From crosses by Eaden, Bryan Hughes volleyed over from 12 yards and Stefani Miglioranzi sliced a back-header against his own bar.

As the storm intensified - soon to reach tornado proportions along the coast at Bognor Regis - Bradbury was defied by the excellent Bennett.

Blues - and those admirable fans - had the point they deserved.

Scorers: Bradbury (40) 1-0, Adebola (47) 1-1.

PORTSMOUTH (4-4-2): Hoult; Hiley, Moore, Primus (Miglioranzi, 66), Edinburgh (Waterman, 71); Thorgerson, Panopoulos, Derry, C Hughes; Claridge, Bradbury. Subs: Flahavan, Nightingale, McNab.

BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Bennett; Gill (Adebola, 46), Holdsworth, Purse, M Johnson; Eaden, O'Connor, Sonner, Grainger; Marcelo (Burchill, 46), A Johnson (B Hughes, 61).Subs: Poole, Lazaridis.

Referee: M Halsey (Welwyn Garden City).

Bookings: Portsmouth - Derry (dissent), Hughes, Edinburgh, Panopoulos (fouls); Birmingham City - Gill (foul).

Attendance: 15,218.

Blues man of the match: Martin O'Connor - knitted the team together from first whistle to last.
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Title Annotation:Football
Author:Halford, Brian
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 30, 2000
Words:757
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