Pompey defeat is painful but you have to afford U’s credit

Pompey boss Paul Cook Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey boss Paul Cook Picture: Joe Pepler
Kenny Jackett. Picture: Joe Pepler

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News sports writer Jordan Cross gives his expert opinion on Pompey’s 1-0 defeat against Oxford and provides us with three things we’ve learnt from the clash at Fratton Park...

Oxford did well - move on

Ryan Fulton saves Liam Sercombe's penalty Picture: Joe Pepler

Ryan Fulton saves Liam Sercombe's penalty Picture: Joe Pepler

As an occasion, it painfully disappointed.

That hurt was keenly felt by Paul Cook every inch as much as the home fans who made it the biggest league gate of the season against Oxford.

It was billed as the battle of the promotion-chasers, between the two best proponents of the beautiful game League Two has to offer.

To the victor the spoils – and that, on this occasion, was Michael Appleton’s side.

In a tight game, without a mass of chances, it was just about the right outcome.

Pompey players went searching for the reasons they ‘stuttered’, as Cook put it during their post-match dressing room inquest.

As an analysis, you could look at how Cook’s side disappointed as an attacking force.

You could highlight the manner in which they were second to the ball too often in the first half, in particular.

And you could pinpoint how the dominance of possession, which is a hallmark of Cook’s Blues, was conceded to Oxford with the hosts’ rhythm absent.

But sometimes you just have to give the opposition credit.

And the U’s, on Saturday, looked every inch the best side to visit Fratton Park this season, including, arguably, the three Championship outfits.

Michael Appleton has been well backed at the Kassam Stadium. He has used that financial support wisely.

Credit goes to him for that and assembling a side which looks like it will be comfortable at a higher level.

That’s where Kemar Roofe belongs. The hype surrounding his 18 goals this season is justified.

But there is quality all over the pitch in this Oxford team, which lines up in a 4-4-2 formation.

The two centre-halves, Johnny Mullins and Jake Wright, are dominant.

They appear to have one of the best – and quickest – right-backs in the division in George Baldock.

Liam Sercombe may have missed a penalty but offers impressive distribution, complemented perfectly by John Lundstam’s energy in the middle of the park.

Callum O’Dowda, on the left flank, is an exciting prospect and has shown that against Pompey now on two occasions.

And when a striker needles home fans with his spiky play, like Danny Hylton did, you know he’s doing something right. The U’s striker impressed with his graft.

Putting those components together in a well-drilled side is what Appleton has achieved.

He then executed a winning game plan against Pompey.

That included targeting Michael Doyle, who was subjected to stray arms and late tackles from Lundstram and Hylton in an effort to incite retaliation.

More importantly, an often congested midfield killed the Blues’ fluency and slowed their tempo.

Pompey were lacklustre as half-time percentage stats of 60-40 in Oxford’s favour indicated.

That evened up after the restart as the Blues enjoyed their best spell without creating the openings they needed.

So an off day for Cook’s men, and a potentially important blip in what has been an encouraging period.

Instead of a post-mortem, though, perhaps it’s best to acknowledge what the opposition did well and move on.

Cook’s hurt is what fans heard

The post-match interview can be a dangerous battleground.

So don’t read too much into Paul Cook’s frosty post-match reaction with Express FM on Saturday.

Listeners to the radio station heard the manager cut short his comments on the game after questions which highlighted Pompey hadn’t created many chances.

That irked Cook and an attempted follow-up over Caolan Lavery’s return to Sheffield Wednesday brought proceedings to a close.

Anyone suggesting the Blues boss launched a furious tirade before angrily storming off is wide of the mark, though.

Cook made his feelings known he was unhappy before then calmly speaking to The News, albeit with his frustration at defeat being obvious.

Express commentator, Martin Hopkins, for his part, maintained his composure and handled a difficult situation impeccably.

Afterwards, Pompey fans aired their views over what took place.

Whether that was in the car on the way home, in the pub or on social media, a string of views on what supporters heard were forwarded.

Those suggesting all is not well at Pompey couldn’t be further from the truth, however.

What unfolded was a manager desperate to win speaking after a disappointing defeat.

Cook has proved himself one of the most amenable managers in recent history when it comes to dealing with the press.

That undoubtedly benefits supporters with what’s passed on to them.

Lengthy and honest midweek press conferences have consistently unfolded in during managerial stewardship.

Post-match chats are generally brief, however.

Cook spoke about his players hurting after the defeat at Oxford. No doubt he was, too.

That’s what supporters heard after the game.

A maiden game Ful of potential

A top-of-the-table clash in front of a crowd of 17,840 at Fratton Park.

There are better occasions to make your league debut – but not many.

And Ryan Fulton rose to it in impressive fashion on Saturday.

The keeper completed his loan move to Pompey from Liverpool until the end of the season on Friday afternoon.

That led to the 19-year-old flying down from Merseyside, but not meeting his new team-mates until the day of the game.

So it’s been a whirlwind period for the Scottish under-21 international.

Yet, you wouldn’t have known it from the composure of his first appearance between the sticks.

The 6ft 3in man put in the kind of assured performance which bodes well for his future.

With Brian Murphy injured after a collision in the FA Cup replay win over Ipswich, Fulton was plunged in at the deep end.

His first major intervention saw him charge out of his box to deny Danny Hylton.

Fulton got there first in that tussle, but it was a different story five minutes after the restart when he hauled Hylton down in the box.

You will not see a better double penalty save than the one he produced to deny Liam Sercombe in his redemption.

Diving low to his right, Fulton kept out the first effort, before flinging his body to the left to deny Sercombe from the follow up.

Getting up for the second save is something keepers have repeatedly drilled into them in training, and Fulton executed it perfectly.

It was a moment which deserved a greater reward.

Jordan Bowery had other things on his mind when he latched on to Jake Wright’s ball forward with 14 minutes left.

Fulton couldn’t be faulted for conceding the pinpoint finish which arrowed inside his post.

And it didn’t detract from a debut which was full of promise from the keeper.