Steve Bruce described this match as "painful" - and he had the facial expression to prove it.

But he was fortunate. The most hapless man at St Andrew's is the Birmingham City employee who must watch the entire 90 minutes again to decide which moments will be used for the club's end-of-season DVD.

It is hard to see any of the footage being saved for future generations, for this was a wretched occasion, devoid of excitement, and best forgotten.

"There was no passing from either team," Bruce, the Birmingham manager, said. "The game was crying out for someone to put their foot on the ball and take a pass and that did not happen."

Birmingham created the greater chances - most notably at the end when a cross by Mario Melchiot flew across the face of the goal - but that does not mean that they deserved to win. A goalless draw was the only appropriate conclusion.

Birmingham might even have lost had it not been for a fine double save by Maik Taylor, their Northern Ireland international goalkeeper, from Gary O'Neil and Diomansy Kamara. The saves were in keeping with the nature of Taylor's recent performances but, for once, he was not Birmingham's best player.

That honour goes to Matthew Upson, the England international defender, who was dominant throughout and did most to ensure that Portsmouth to break Birmingham down. Not that Bruce found any consolations.

"I thought in the second half we were a little bit brighter and had a little bit more spark but overall a 0-0 draw was deserved," he said. "Portsmouth are fighting for their lives and they will be delighted with a point.

"The disappointing thing is we have struggled to pick up enough points against teams below us this season. We have usually been very, very good with that - but it has not happened this season."

It was a day when creativity was in short supply. Stan Lazaridis came close to scoring with one volley but he otherwise became frustrated at the lack of space.

Jermaine Pennant, now free of the tagging device that seemed to constrain him, seemed livelier but it was not an evening for ball players. For the most part, this was all about avoiding defeat and, as Bruce said, Portsmouth will have been happier with the result.

Birmingham only really started to play in the second half and that was when Melchiot assumed the role of a winger, rather than a right back, and seemed to relish the change in emphasis. When Clinton Morrison emerged as a second-half substitute, the tempo increased and Birmingham seemed set for victory.

These days, when Birmingham play it direct, they only succeed in frustrating themselves and their supporters. Indeed, Aliou Ciss>, their former midfield player, now with Portsmouth, wondered why the play was so direct.

"Birmingham have a good team but I think they now have to play football," Ciss> said. "They have to pass the ball. They kick the ball, they play it to Emile Heskey. Before we came here, we knew how they played so afterwards it is easy to deal with."

That is part of Birmingham's problem. They have the players to make passing their preferred system of winning matches but, when frustration sets in, they resort to the long-ball game that has no place in the Premiership.

To be fair, Bruce is signing players that are capable of producing sweet football, but now the team find themselves in a transitional period between the direct style of the past and the patient style of the future.

Alain Perrin, the Portsmouth manager, seemed to emphasise Birmingham's aggressive style of play.

"I am happy to pick up a point from Birmingham," Perrin said.

"That was the target when we came here but in the early stages we showed that we could have got more than that. We were ambitious in our play but after that it was hard because Birmingham are an aggressive side.

"We wanted to attack in the second half as well. We wanted to continue in the same way but in the middle of the pitch we did not succeed in keeping the ball.

"We did not give any good balls to the forwards because of the pressure that Birmingham put on us. But we have taken four points from these two games with Charlton and Birmingham and we want to try to finish the season strongly."

That should be Birmingham's policy but, in one sense, the season has already finished. Europe is out of the question, relegation was never really on the agenda, and anticlimax seems to be setting in like a virus.

BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Clapham; Pennant, Johnson, Nafti (Carter,

76), Lazaridis (Morrison, 59); Heskey, Pandiani (Gray, 59). Substitutes not used: Blake, Vaesen. PORTSMOUTH (4-4-2): Ashdown; Ciss>, de Zeeuw, Primus, Griffin; Stone (Berger, 64), O'Neil , Hughes, Skopelitis (Mezague, 83); Kamara (Fuller, 71), Lua-Lua. Substitutes not used: Hislop, Rodic.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire). Bookings: Birmingham - Nafti (fouls); Portsmouth - Ciss>, Kamara (fouls). Attendance: 28,883.

Birmingham man of the match: Matthew Upson - dominant at the heart of the defence.