Steve Bruce exuded defiance after their game at Goodison Park, but the problems continue to mount.

Not only did Portsmouth win 2-1 at home to Sunderland, thus sending Birmingham back into the bottom three, Bruce said that Emile Heskey and Jermaine Pennant are playing at less than 100 per cent fit.

Realistically, Birmingham need at least four points from their final two matches - against Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers - to have a hope of avoiding relegation to the Coca-Cola Championship.

Portsmouth control their own fate and will survive if they win their final two matches, against Wigan Athletic and Liverpool. But Bruce says there are twists still to come.

"Neither Emile nor Jermaine were 100 per cent fit but at least they rolled their sleeves up and gave it a go," Bruce said.

"With the problems we have it was vital they put themselves forward for the challenge.

"I thought they did well but they just ran out of energy at the end. If we are being honest, there was not much quality on either side but our resilience and character at least allowed us to get something out of the game.

"We have to remain confident and we have to remain positive. Our next task is to take the fight into the final week."

There is no doubt that Birmingham are at their best when fighting spirit is required but Bruce is comfortable that Portsmouth are in control of the battle to avoid relegation.

Sunderland are already relegated, while West Bromwich Albion are heading in the same direction. Birmingham will join them if Portsmouth pick up six points from two matches.

But Bruce senses that Portsmouth will do well to defeat Wigan and Liverpool, while he expects Birmingham to show more direction up front against Newcastle and Bolton.

To judge by his after-match press conference at Goodison Park, however, you would think that Bruce was just pleased to still have a chance of survival.

It is the form of Portsmouth that has surprised everybody. They have, as their manager, Harry Red-knapp said, produced a recent record good enough to fight for a place in Europe.

"The disappointing thing is the situation is now out of our hands," Bruce said. "But I still think there are some major twists left.

"We are fortunate in that we are putting together our best sequence of results through the whole season and, if someone had said to me in January, when we only had 12 points, that we would still be alive at this stage, I would have taken it."

Of course, it all becomes academic if Birmingham lose to Newcastle and Portsmouth defeat Wigan. Then Bruce would be forced to begin preparations for a season in the Coca-Cola Championship.