Portsmouth 1 – 1 Sunderland
By David Ornstein
Aruna Dindane equalised in the 96th minute to earn cash-strapped Portsmouth a deserved draw against Sunderland.
Pompey, who face a winding-up order on Wednesday, went behind when Ricardo Rocha saw red for tripping Darren Bent and the striker scored from the spot.
Sunderland had Lee Cattermole and David Meyler sent off, while Matt Kilgallon volleyed against a post.
But Pompey’s numerical advantage told and Dindane nodded home a Jamie O’Hara cross at the death to earn a point.
A draw was the very least Portsmouth deserved for an outstanding display on a night when their entire existence was in the balance.
The debt-ridden south coast outfit have a date at the High Court on Wednesday, when they face a winding-up petition relating to an unpaid VAT bill of £7.5m.
They remain in talks with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs over a deal which they hope will lead to action being dropped but if their appeal against the petition fails, they could be placed into liquidation.
In the meantime, Portsmouth may go into administration and incur a 10-point deduction, but that would at least allow the books to be audited and keep alive their hope that a new owner can be found.
And spirits around Fratton Park will be lifted by a performance of great character and persistence from Avram Grant’s team.
They remain rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, seven points adrift of safety – but in football terms they are capable of avoiding relegation to the Championship.
Given the off-field turmoil that has surrounded the club, it was hardly surprising that they got off to a nervy and disorganised start.
Furious Grant attacks ref decisions
Portsmouth had won only one of their previous nine league games and it was easy to see why when Papa Bouba Diop failed to clear a long pass forward and Rocha inadvertently clipped Bent’s heels as he raced through on goal.
Confusion ensued as referee Kevin Friend wrongly showed Hassan Yebda the red card, but Rocha eventually owned up and was dismissed.
Bent stepped up to beat David James with a low strike that went in off the goalkeeper’s right-hand post.
The home fans ensured any sense of dejection was swiftly banished by raising the roof in support of their team and Pompey responded magnificently.
Dindane was denied by the legs of Craig Gordon, Jamie O’Hara almost went through on goal and Diop lashed into the side-netting from an acute angle.
Pompey felt they should have had a penalty just before half-time when Dindane was hauled down by George McCartney and Grant was so incensed that his protestations at the interval led to him being ordered to the stands.
Bruce angry at Sunderland ‘stupidity’
Sunderland came into the game in no form of their own – winless in their previous 11 league games and without an away victory since the opening day – and they were struggling to keep pace with the hosts.
Strikers Dindane and Frederic Piquionne were proving increasingly problematic to the visitors and Pompey appealed for another penalty when McCartney appeared to trip Piquionne as he bore down on goal.
By that stage Cattermole had been given his marching orders for nasty-looking fouls on Dindane and Angelos Basinas but, in a rare attack, Sunderland almost doubled their lead when Kilgallon thundered a left-footed volley against the post.
Jones almost connected with a Bent cross-cum-shot but, otherwise, it was all Portsmouth and they even had a numerical advantage after substitute Meyler was sent off for an elbow on Steve Finnan.
Grant’s men skilfully engineered a number of openings late on and Piquionne headed wide from a glorious position.
Finally, however, Pompey’s pressure told as the tireless Dindane nodded in at the back post from O’Hara’s enticing deep centre.
Portsmouth manager Avram Grant:
“In the last 10 days too many decisions have gone against us.
“Against Manchester City there was a clear penalty and a goal from offside. Against Fulham there was a clear offside against Bobby Zamora.
“Against Manchester United it was 1-0 and there was no penalty when (Patrice) Evra used two hands.
“Against Sunderland, two clear penalties against us. I can fight against everything but sometimes it is too much. Maybe it is too easy to do things against us.”
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce:
“Our own stupidity, two rash challenges, have cost us the game. To go down to nine men when we’re 1-0 up is not acceptable.
“They’re young and genuine players and I hope they learn from it but they’ve badly let us down today.
“There’s a huge frustration there over our lack of professionalism and discipline. To concede in the last 10 seconds is another kick in the teeth.”