Pompey 4 Oxford 1: Jordan Cross' match report
AmidÂ a positive league start, the questionÂ asked of Pompey remained entirely justified.
Does this team of Kenny Jackett's have anything like the requisite quality and cutting edge to create even a ripple in League One this term?
The evidence of three opening games this season was actually pointing towards a negative answer viaÂ the safety-first approach employed by the Blues.
On Saturday, however, Jackett's men delivered their emphatic response to the doubters with a swashbuckling performance to sweep aside an outgunned and shell-shocked Oxford United.
The desire across much of the pre-season preparations had been to plug the holes in a sometimes porous defence last term. But the push to eradicate the cheap and avoidable lapses on the back foot had appeared to come at a cost.
Craft, creativity and attacking chances had taken a hit for much of the formative stageÂ of the bid to reach the Championship at the second attempt.
The desire to make his team more robust after being frustrated by lapses puncturingÂ positive progress in his maiden season, was an understandable standpoint from the Pompey boss.
But the fear was doing so wouldÂ make watching his side as arduous as following a Conor Chaplin transfer saga.
'˜We haven't got it too right in terms of formation, personnel and balance of the team so far,' admitted Jackett in the aftermath of an afternoon where Pompey took a giant step towards doing just that.
Until drifting into cruise control with the score 3-0 and the job done with 25 minutes left, a combination of Pompey's organisation and the visitor's ineptitude had reduced keeper Craig MacGillivray to a spectator. But this time the stoutness was married with an imagination, penetration and ability to fluently turn defence into attack.
So why did it click so emphatically? Why did Pompey deliver the kind of display which gives supporters much-needed evidence the best start to a season in 30 years is not little more than a quirk, a statistical anomaly to enjoy but not take too seriously?
Step forward and take a royal-blue bow in the PO4 sunshine Ben Thompson.
If not entirely owing to one of the finest Pompey debuts in recent memory, there's absolutely no doubt the presence of the Millwall man following his loan addition elevated his new side's display to another level.
The signs were quickly there as agreeable murmurs grew around Fratton to the 22-year-old's probings and bursts forward with the ball.
But then came a thunderous 21st-minute tackle to shut down Marcus Browne's threatening charge through the heart of Pompey's defence.
With the minimum of fuss, Browne was left dumped on the Fratton turf as Thompson seamlessly turned a dangerous U's attack into a Blues charge forward. In that moment, Fratton Park had a new darling.
Three minutes later a 25 yarder was a whisker away from giving him the goal his majestic debut warranted.
It was the little dynamo's ability to encourage forward thinking with his passes into space which left Pompey great purring Guy Whittingham purring from his vantage point in the press box.
Around the ground the shimmies, range of passing and drive were being admired from a faultless tour de force of a maiden appearance.
Twitter was left all a quiver, too, as Thompson was described as everything from 'incredible', 'pivotal' to 'like Chris Burns with hair'. Impressive endorsements.
Of course, we remember John Utaka looked a world beater at first but the dimension the new boy added to his side was the biggest cause for encouragement on an afternoon drenched in optimism.
But by no means was it the only reason for cheer.
Take the resolve and character of Gareth Evans to bounce back from an unconvincing 25th-minute penalty miss to fire his side on their way three minutes after the restart.
Or look to the aggression coursing through Oli Hawkins as he provided a focal point and gave two powerful defenders Rob Dikie and Curtis Nelson a battering, a goal being the only thing missing from a textbook number nine display.
Then sit back and admire the sight of Jamal Lowe at full throttle as he delivered a super show which saw him central to all four of his side's goals.
Tom Naylor's reassuring anchoring presence, MacGillivray's confidence and the sight of a player of David Wheeler's quality arriving from the sturdiest bench Pompey have named in years were all morale-boosting sub-plots to an afternoon when it was all-too easy to get a little giddy.
That, of course, isn't a word in Jackett's vocabulary as the Pompey boss remained typically pragmatic in his assessment of an early-season high from his team.
'˜We haven't cracked it yet,'Â was the view, backed by Oxford's late surge which saw them hit the woodwork twice before Jack Whatmough turned Tony McMahon's cross past his own keeper in the only blemish of a near-perfect day.
But then came the ideal final flurry in the shape of Lowe's 40-yard charge forwardÂ and exquisite 20-yard finish to provide the positive finale this afternoon deserved.Â
Perhaps it was the perfect time to play a new-look Oxford side in transition, and it's a given they will not be soÂ accommodatingÂ when Pompey go to the Kassam in January. The 18,093 present had been offered a tantalising glimpse of what Jackett is aiming for his team to be, though.
Supporters were digesting that display, as they filtered away from Fratton and pulled out their smartphones to see their team are one of two sides with 100 per cent records in the formative League One table.
A heady moment and one to enjoy as Jackett's men match the start of Alan Ball's boys after falling out of the top flight in the 1987-88Â campaign.
That season actually offers the best context for how this opening should be interpreted.Â The start ended withÂ Pompey 20th in Division Two and BallyÂ gone by January.
That little piece of Fratton history's worth remembering with thisÂ side remainingÂ a work in progress with deficiencies apparent.
But now we've given a clear insight into what Jackett's Pompey can be - and that was desperately needed.