Sunderland's struggle to avoid relegation will go down to the wire after a 3-1 loss at Portsmouth's Fratton Park. Ricky Sbragia's side needed all three points from the visit to the south coast but their English Premier League fate will now be rest on the outcome of Chelsea's visit next Sunday and results elsewhere.
Sunderland were left just two points clear of the drop zone. A win over Chelsea would see them them safe, while anything else would meain their future will be decided by results elsewhere. Portsmouth had already ensured their top flight status last weekend.
Both sides hit the post in a goalless and largely lifeless first half. Sunderland were lucky to escape when the woodwork diverted Peter Crouch's close-range header in the fourth minute, while the visitors were groaning when Kenwyne Jones's glancing header hit Asmir Begovic's post approaching the break.
Begovic, replacing the injured David James, was having his first start for Portsmouth, and the lanky Canadian made his mark when producing a double save to deny efforts from Steed Malbranque in the 14th minute. Then, after almost 12 and a half hours without either side scoring a goal, first Sunderland and then Portsmouth put an end to that miserable statistic as a dreary encounter suddenly caught fire.
Jones had the Sunderland fans dreaming of another season in the top flight when he half-volleyed Calum Davenport's cross from the right past Begovic in the 58th minute. But Portsmouth were back on level terms seconds later when Nigerian John Utaka held off a Black Cats defender to rifle past Marton Fulop. Poor defending by Anton Ferdinand, who failed to secure Begovic's long punt down field, left Utaka in a one-on-one with Fulop and Phil Bardsley's attempt to prevent the inevitable resulted in an own-goal.
With 20 minutes left on the clock Begovic denied Grant Leadbitter's low 30-yard drive and the Canadian keeper did well shortly after to keep out Jones' determined volley.
Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia introduced Djibril Cisse for Teemu Tainio in a last-ditch bid to find the all-important equaliser, the Frenchman quickly followed on the pitch by Daryl Murphy for Leadbitter. However, it was Portsmouth who had the last word, settling the outcome when on-loan Armand Traore drilled a shot into Fulop's far corner.
"We knew in the second half they'd push on to us and close us down. but we got off to a good start," Sbragia said. "Kenwyne scored and from then on we should have been a bit more confident and bossed the game.
"We kept the lead for two minutes, and that's not acceptable. The second goal was a bad mistake by Anton. He switched off. I would imagine he should have just put his foot through it and helped it on," the manager went on. "From then on I thought we played reasonably well. We left ourselves open late on - we were obviously trying to go for the equaliser."