The fragility of our relegation threatened team was plain to see as Sunderland’s chances of staying up in the Premier League suffered another setback on this day fourteen years ago.
Managed by coach Ricky Sbragia after Roy Keane’s abrupt yet unsurprising departure, the original good form displayed by the team under the Scot around Christmas time was a distant memory by this stage of the season.
In the previous eleven games, Sbragia’s team only mustered a single victory leaving them in deep trouble going into the final round of fixtures. Luckily for the team, they werent alone in having a horrendous slump - with local rivals Newcastle United and Middlesborough occupying two of the three relegation spots along with Hull just outside them along with Sunderland.
For this game itself, Sunderland were set up quite defensively with star striker Djibril Cissé dropped to the bench in favour of an extra midfielder with Sbragia seemingly intent on not losing rather than winning.
The adaptation to his formation worked originally, with Sunderland shutting out the Portsmouth attackers. They also created some tentative openings themselves as Grant Leadbitter, Dean Whitehead and Steed Malbranque all had efforts at goal but none were struck cleanly enough to trouble Portsmouth keeper Asmir Begovic, who was in for the injured David James.
Sunderland continued to create half chances in the first half with Kieran Richardson wasting a decent opening after half an hour, collecting a cute back-heel from Jones on the edge of the box but blazing his effort over the bar.
Ten minutes later, Jones replicated Peter Crouch’s earlier effort when he headed Malbranque’s cross against a post and lay helpless as the ball ran along the goal-line and, ultimately, to safety.
We would come to rue missing the Jones chance as the home side made attacking changes - Traore and Younes Kaboul for Richard Hughes and Kanu - and this liberated Portsmouth, who made all the running early in the second half.
However, after fending off the home side for nearly 20 minutes Sunderland scored with their first attack.
Callum Davenport got free down the right before swinging over a precision deep cross that beat Sol Campbell and found Jones who tapped in first time at the far post. The visitors were barely able to consider the relegation-avoiding implications of the goal as within moments, Pompey turned the game on its head.
Firstly, a long ball forward for Portsmouth was headed clear but struck Grant Leadbitter and ricocheted into the path of Utaka in the box, the striker holding off the challenge of Davenport and firing past Fulop.
Sunderland were not coping with Begovic’s long balls - and a long punt forward resulted in a woeful attempted clearance from Anton Ferdinand as he swung at and missed the ball. His error allowed Utaka to run clear, round Marton Fulop before forcing Bardsley into a sliding challenge that bundled the ball into his own net.
Suddenly, we were chasing the game. Sbragia brought on Cissé in hope that the eccentric Frenchman would find a moment of magic who was inches away from producing an instant reward with a shot that flew wide.
Jones again was guilty of wasting a good chance moments later when he found space at the far post but could only head straight at Begovic.
The good chances (along with putrid defending) would prove costly as near the end Portsmouth immediately went down the other end to score; Utaka finding Traore on the left and the defender drilled a shot past Fulop into the far corner to seal the win.
It left Sunderland returning to the Stadium of Light on the final day with a mammoth task of avoiding defeat against Chelsea.
Ultimately, the deficiencies of teams around them saved their skin. Sbragia left swiftly after the final game against the Blues with Steve Bruce eventually taking over.