Oxford United 3 Pompey 0 – Neil Allen’s match report

Wes Thomas gave Oxford the lead after a fumble by Pompey keeper Luke McGee Picture; Joe Pepler
Wes Thomas gave Oxford the lead after a fumble by Pompey keeper Luke McGee Picture; Joe Pepler
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Marvin Johnson departed the action with 11 minutes remaining, lavished with applause.

Oxford United fans are now banking on the talented winger not leaving the Kassam Stadium for good.

Hull are hovering, a £1m bid already lodged in ongoing attempts to lure him into the Championship.

Bullish boss Pep Clotet believes Johnson is worth significantly more than presently tabled by the ex-Premier League outfit – the 26-year-old is not for sale.

Welcome to League One, Pompey.

While the U’s dictated important lessons on the field of play, there linger other reminders that this truly is a whole different playground.

Certainly locking horns with a player valued in excess of £1m was not commonplace during that four-year sentence served in the bottom division.

On Saturday, reality smacked the Blues squarely in the face, a shaking of the senses and brutal reminder all packed into one punch.

There will be those among the Fratton faithful gazing longingly towards occupying a lofty perch for a second consecutive campaign.

Yet in the city of dreaming spires arrived a wake-up call to those swept up in such delusions.

As Pompey feel their way about in a room steadily growing in light, there will be gradual familiarity with their surroundings.

This, however, is surely fated to be a season of consolidation and patient progress rather than a swashbuckling charge towards the League One summit.

As glimpsed against Rochdale and subsequently demonstrated more emphatically by Oxford, opposition are a class above at this level.

An obvious statement, granted, yet such indicators of the task ahead should continue to act as sobering thoughts to intoxicating ambition.

Pompey’s display warranted Saturday’s 3-0 loss, a maiden defeat back in League One and one which highlighted current flaws.

It represented a first league loss since March 18 at Stevenage by the same scoreline, a League Two outcome unquestionably influenced by the injury absences of Kal Naismith and Kyle Bennett.

What followed was eight wins and a draw in the following nine matches, stretching into the current campaign.

But don’t expect a similar response after the Kassam Stadium defeat, these are, after all, contrasting days for a very different Pompey.

Kenny Jackett has repeatedly spoken of his policy to pinpoint August and September as revealing the destiny of his existing squad as he continues to assess its merits.

Despite an appointment to the role at the turn of June, this remains a transitional period for the Blues boss. Clearly patience from all is required in the meantime.

A work in progress rather than the finished article – and unfortunately the team performed as such against the U’s on Saturday.

The opening 45 minutes were solid enough from Pompey, albeit reduced to pouncing on the counter attack as the hosts seized control of the ball.

Had Brett Pitman’s header three minutes before the break not been ruled out for a push as he shaped to meet Brandon Haunstrup’s excellent left-wing cross, the outcome may have been different.

Jackett and midfielder Danny Rose both afterwards reasoned it should have been allowed to stand, yet referee Graham Salisbury had a contrasting view.

That moment proved to be the closest Pompey came to scoring as they struggled for creativity and were devoid of an attacking edge in the final third.

Already, with the season in its infancy, the issues requiring remedying are glaringly obvious to supporters – and no doubt the manager.

Although Jackett is striving to pinpoint an effective role for Naismith, in truth the Scot was presented with very little of the ball by his team-mates during his stint as the main striker.

Meanwhile, Brett Pitman occupies the position Naismith thrived in last season, operating behind.

Elsewhere, injuries and squad options ensured three players with five appearances between them during the title campaign all started at Oxford in League One.

In fairness, Brandon Haunstrup turned in a man-of-the-match display while deputising for Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, demonstrating defensive resilience and a welcome attacking intent.

After dipping his toe in the water at Cardiff on Tuesday night, the 20-year-old had palpably grown and certainly looked comfortable in what was commanded of him.

Then there was Adam May, handed a maiden Football League start and asked to partner Danny Rose in holding midfield. As nerveless as ever, the teenager possesses a distinctive footballing aura which augers well.

Completing the trio was Drew Talbot, who has impressed with his commitment and solidity after thawed from deep storage.

Nonetheless, in midfield terms, Michael Doyle has not been replaced – and neither have fringe players Amine Linganzi and Stanley Aborah. New blood is essential.

Similarly, with injury rendering the end of Holmes-Dennis’ time at Fratton Park, a left-back is also required in the ongoing necessity to replace Enda Stevens and his assists.

Still, Jackett named a side unchanged from that which lined up in the Carabao Cup at Cardiff and performed so admirably in the 2-1 extra-time defeat.

With Jamal Lowe suspended and Milan Lalkovic, Matt Clarke and Nathan Thompson sidelined, unavailabilities continue to disrupt.

Regardless, it was only in the second half on Saturday when Pompey began to unravel and a below-par display start to become punished.

On 47 minutes, the ever-rampaging Christian Ribeiro’s cross from the right was fumbled horribly by keeper Luke McGee, with Wes Thomas bundling home the loose ball.

Then two goals in the final eight minutes added gloss to Oxford’s win.

Firstly substitute Gino Van Kessel produced an excellent piece of skill down the left to create space to cut inside the box and fire home.

Then, deep into stoppage time, Jack Payne laid the ball into the path of Josh Ruffels to calmly fire home a third and complete the scoreline.

This time last year, loanee Payne scored the winner for Huddersfield at Newcastle United in front of a crowd of 52,079.

Welcome to League One, Pompey.