Oxford United v Pompey: Pre-match talking points

Will Rooney looks at three of the key issues ahead of Pompey's visit to Oxford United.

Friday, 11th August 2017, 6:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 11:49 am
Carl Baker in action against Cardiff in the Carabao Cup Picture: Joe Pepler

Who will start at left-back?

Left-back was a crucial position in Pompey’s run to the League Two crown last season.

Enda Stevens was not just Mr Reliable but the Blues’ chief assist-maker.

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Tarieq Holmes-Dennis was brought in to replace the Irishman and ease the pain of his loss.

However, after impressing in pre-season and showing there is life after Stevens, heartbreak struck for the Huddersfield loanee.

He limped out in the first half of Pompey’s curtain-raiser against Rochdale with a knee injury and is set to be out for three to four months.

As a result, surprise-selection Drew Talbot was moved to the left-hand side of defence from the right against the Dale, while Gareth Evans dropped back into a now familar right-back berth..

For a player whose path to the first team last season under Paul Cook appeared a deadend with extra reinforcements for good measure, Talbot performed admirably.

As he did went utilised at right-back against Cardiff in midweek.

But Pompey boss Jackett must now decide if Talbot will feature at left-back again or opt for youngster Brandon Haunstrup.

The academy graduate started Tuesday’s Carabao Cup defeat to Cardiff.

Just his sixth Blues start, Haunstrup showed signs of greenness in the early stages of the contest and struggled to restrict the marauding runs of Matty Kennedy.

The 20-year-old responded well, however, stood up to the challenge presented to him and showed he has the desire and talent to pick himself up in difficult situations.

So what now for Jackett and his team selection for the trip to the Kassam Stadium?

Talbot is a veteran with over 300 games under his belt, but he’s not a natural left-footer – something Jackett is concerned with.

Meanwhile, despite Haunstrup’s ability and potential, he still has a lot to learn and the trip to Oxford will provide a stern test.

It’s a tough one for Jackett, but you suspect he might opt for experience over youth.

Central midfield role also up for grabs

Pompey’s boss also has a similar scenario in the engine room, although there is no injury crisis.

Michael Doyle, Amine Linganzi and Stanley Aborah’s summer departures have left a void in the Blues’ central midfield department, with Jackett yet to recruit a replacement of similar standing.

Carl Baker made the transition into the centre of the park to face Rochdale.

What he offers his side is experience, a great deal of professionalism and vast knowledge of League One.

However, he’s spent the majority of his career as a wideman and might be more of an assist on the wing.

Adam May is regarded as a Pompey star in the making.

He’s desperate to stamp his authority on the team and his loan spell at Sutton United has certainly whet his appetite.

May displayed his range of raking passes in south Wales, is improving each game and, crucially, is a natural in the role.

Tough first away test

Jackett’s men didn’t have the easiest of starts to their League One campaign against the Dale.

They passed their first test with flying colours, although it was in front of a bumper Fratton Park crowd who basked in the Blues’ return to the Football League’s third tier.

However, tomorrow’s test at the Kassam Stadium should be a barometer of where Pompey are really at.

U’s manager Pep Clotet is looking to continue Michael Appleton’s impressive work at the Kassam Stadium.

Oxford finished eighth in their League One return last season and fell just four points shy of a play-off place.

Clotet’s reign got off to a flyer with a 2-0 win at Oldham last week.

The Spaniard has inherited some talented players – including former Everton and England under-20s captain Ryan Ledson – while he’s brought 12 fresh faces in during this summer.

Oxford will be harbouring promotion ambitions of their own and Saturday’s result could be an early indicator of where Jackett’s men will finish come May.