Marlon King snatched an injury-time equaliser as Middlesbrough drew 1-1 with relegation rivals Portsmouth at The Riverside Stadium.
Pompey led 1-0 thanks to a spectacular first-half volley from Peter Crouch, but were pegged back in the 93rd minute when King finished from close range to secure a point.
Boro’s cause looked doomed when Matthew Bates was sent off for a second bookable offence with quarter of an hour remaining, but they were perhaps unlucky not to emerge with all three points as David James was called on to make a great save from Afonso Alves seconds before the final whistle.
Pompey will no doubt feel aggrieved having led for so long, and dominated for large periods, but they only have themselves to blame for their late collapse.
With the bottom of the Premier League more tightly contested than ever before, the phrase ‘relegation six pointer’ has come to describe almost half the games involving these two clubs since mid-November.
The enormity of the clash was such that both sides knew that victory could see them achieve the solace of a place outside the dreaded relegation zone while defeat for either would cement their spot among the stricken.
But if victory was pre-requisite and defeat not to be contemplated, then no-one had apparently pointed this out to Boro.
The easy tempo and lackadaisical approach that Southgate’s side brought to the clash in the early stages suggested they were not fully aware of the gravity of the situation they are in.
They certainly weren’t playing as though their very footballing lives depended on them claiming three points – a lack of quality was perhaps to be expected but the absence of passion is unforgivable.
Pompey certainly weren’t much better on the ball, but at least it looked like they were going to give it a damn good go.
Glen Johnson created an early chance on eight minutes, cutting the ball back for David Nugent whose shot from close range was blocked, while the same player struck the woodwork ten minutes later after a neat interchange in the area with strike partner Crouch.
Boro were restricted to tame efforts from distance with Emanuel Pogatetz and Stewart Downing both trying their luck from outside the box, while Tuncay had a glimpse of goal but headed into the side netting.
It was, therefore, deserved, when Pompey took the lead on the half hour and the manner of the goal gave a hint as to why Southgate’s side are in the trouble they are in.
The home side switched off as Paul Hart’s men took a corner quickly from the right. Glen Johnson was on hand to punish their somnolence by pulling the ball back to Crouch who volleyed home in impressive fashion from the edge of the area.
The former Liverpool striker has his faults, but he seems to have an uncanny knack of timing the ball to perfection when it looks like it is going to be almost impossible to get a clean connection.
Boro’s response to going a goal down was briefly to go onto the attack. Their short sojourn in the Pompey half had little reward, however, with a deflected shot from Jeremie Aliadiere as close as they came to levelling the scores.
Southgate’s side do not seem to be lacking in confidence and whatever the Boro boss said to King at half time had the effect of convincing the striker he could volley like Marco van Basten.
Ten minutes after the restart the former Hull and Watford forward tried an audacious effort from an acute angle, reminiscent of the great Dutchman’s famous strike in the European Championships in 1988.
But unlike that wonder goal, King’s effort was deflected over the bar. Undeterred, he tried another acrobatic attempt minutes later that bore no resemblance to any player of note and finished up nearer the corner flag than the goal.
Boro, however, were revived and were at last they showing signs of life, lacking in the first half and would have been level on 60 minutes but for a fantastic reaction save from David James.
Substitute Adam Johnson crossed for Tuncay arriving in the middle and his header was bound for the back of the net before James stretched out an arm to parry.
But Boro’s hopes of a revival were dealt a hammer blow with 14 minutes to play when Bates was given his marching orders for picking up his second booking for a silly dive.
After being carded minutes after the restart for a clumsy challenge on Niko Kranjcar, the midfielder burst into the box before hurling himself to the ground under the challenge of Sylvain Distin.
Referee Martin Atkinson had little doubt in his mind that Bates had theatrically tumbled and promptly pulled out the red card.
It wasn’t to be the final drama of the game, however, as, with Pompey cruising to victory, King ensured they were left with little celebrate at the final whistle.
James pulled off a fantastic save to deny Tony McMahon, but King was on hand to tap home the rebound from close range in the 93rd minute.
And Pompey were perhaps fortunate to emerge with anything at all as James was called into action at the death to deny substitute Afonso Alves as he bore down on goal.
It was definitely a case of two points dropped for Pompey, who are now without a win on the road since early November. For Southgate, and Boro, perhaps this could be the turning point that eventually sees them climb to safety.