Richie Barker praised the flexibility of his players after his tactical switch at Oxford.
The Pompey boss opted to use a 4-4-2 formation for the trip to Chris Wilder’s promotion-chasing side on Saturday.
And he was rewarded with a gutsy point as a resilient and organised Blues outfit picked up a 0-0 draw.
The move from Barker came days after he suggested he didn’t have the players to utilise a system with two men up front and four men in midfield.
But the 38-year-old opted to go that way after handing three new recruits their debuts at the Kassam Stadium.
Barker made some selection surprises as he used Nicky Shorey – normally a left-back – in the middle of the park on his first start.
And he handed Simon Ferry the captain’s armband and a role on the right of midfield on his return to the side.
It was a call which was vindicated by the result, and Barker was delighted to see his players respond to the move.
Barker said: ‘The formation was a little bit different because you have to deal with what you are given.
‘I used Nicky in the middle because I felt he would be a calming influence.
‘He helped us with possession and took the sting out of the game.
‘He doesn’t panic on the ball usually and I was pleased with what he did in there.
‘We aren’t conceding goals, but people are also becoming less creative against us.
‘Everyone will talk about the back four but the attitude of the players all over the pitch has been fantastic.
‘I was proud of them, really.
‘I told them their attitude since I’ve come in, particularly since Bristol Rovers, has been positive and excellent.
‘It’s going okay, but there’s a long way to go.’
Ferry’s role was crucial to Pompey’s success as he was used out wide, with wingers Ricky Holmes and Andy Barcham not yet fit to return.
The Scottish midfielder tucked inside at times to support Shorey and Thery Racon.
That placed the onus on loanee Daniel Alfei to provide the width when Pompey attacked from his right-back role.
Alfei rose to that challenge well as he produced a promising performance on his debut, following his temporary switch from Swansea at the start of the month.
Barker felt both players reacted positively to what he was asking them to do for the good of the team.
‘Simon’s a football-clever person who works extremely hard,’ said Barker.
‘I knew he would be diligent so I asked him to do something a little different.
‘But he has a good understanding of the game and was fine with it.
‘It was no surprise to see him do that.
‘It was a big ask for Dan on his debut to not have a winger in front of him.
‘So he didn’t have a great deal of help in that aspect, although Simon did well.
‘Full-backs often want the man in front of them doing their job for them.
‘Danny didn’t have that but got on with it.’