New Delhi: Struggling Newcastle United welcomed Portsmouth to St James’ Park with manager Alan Shearer insisting the fixture was one of the “biggest games” of his career.
A lofty statement indeed and so it proved as Shearer picked an adventurous starting line-up featuring Alan Smith, Mark Viduka, Obafemi Martins and Michael Owen.
Certainly the home side began the game brightly, roared on by a fervent home support, but despite edging possession they struggled to create anything in the way of clear-cut chances.
In fact it took until almost half an hour before the Portsmouth defence had any cause to worry.
Danny Guthrie, on for the hamstrung Jose Enrique, fired a shot which Viduka managed to get a touch on and direct goalwards.
Whilst the ball trickled towards the net, it still needed an extra touch to take it over the line but the Australian couldn’t quite get there in time and Portsmouth cleared for a corner.
Yet the chance caused the home crowd to raise the volume a couple of decibels and moments later Smith almost fired home, shooting from just outside the box but just a little too high.
Damien Duff was the next to go close as Newcastle cranked up the pressure. A corner to the far post found the winger cutting inside before unleashing a shot which David James did well to tip around his post.
However, with half-time approaching Shearer’s men were presented with possibly their best chance of all.
A Habib Beye cross from the right found Martins and whilst his header was blocked he was the first to the rebound but lashed wildly over from close range.
The second-half began in much the same style and Newcastle could have taken the lead within seconds of the restart.
Some lovely work by Martins on the edge of the box saw him feed Owen whose back heel fell perfectly for Viduka but with the goal gaping the striker shot straight at James.
However, the Portsmouth stopper almost presented Newcastle with a goal on the hour mark after failing to deal with a left wing cross from Duff.
The England goalkeeper dropped the ball before springing up quickly to block the rebound and deny Viduka an easy tap-in.
James acknowledged his error to his team-mates but moments later he managed to redeem himself somewhat.
Some scruffy play put Owen in one-on-one with James but the former Real Madrid man shot weakly, allowing James to block.
With Newcastle pressing forwards Portsmouth became an increasing threat on the break with Glen Johnson pulling a shot wide before Nadir Belhadj stung Harper’s palms with a fierce shot.
Yet with a little over 10 minutes to go Peter Crouch could, and probably, should have opened the scoring.
Sent clear through on goal he just had Harper to beat but his effort was tame, allowing a grateful Newcastle goalkeeper to claim.
Incredibly, Portsmouth went even closer moments later. A corner to the far post found Richard Hughes aiming a delicate header back across goal which smacked the base of the post before rebounding to safety.
In the end, however, neither goal was breached, a result that will suit Portsmouth but leaves Newcastle still three points from safety with games swiftly running out.
Newcastle: Harper, Beye, Coloccini, Bassong, Jose Enrique (Guthrie, 31), Smith, Butt, Duff (Gutierrez, 71), Viduka (Carroll, 64), Martins, Owen.
Portsmouth: James, Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson, Davis, Belhadj, Hughes, Mullins, Nugent (Pennant, 65), Crouch.
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