Oxford United 0 Portsmouth 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Promotion flame still flickers as resurgent Blues show their character and passion

A reaction was essential. If belief wasn’t draining from Pompey’s players, it was certainly dwindling among the wearying Fratton faithful.

Tuesday, 23rd February 2021, 9:02 pm
Harvey White, on his full debut, tackles Oxford's Cameron Brannagan in tonight's clash. Picture: Jason Brown/ProSportsImages

How Kenny Jackett’s side needed a positive response at the Kassam Stadium – and didn’t they rise to the challenge magnificently.

The Blues headed into the Oxford United encounter with four defeats in seven matches and falling away among the also rans in the League One promotion race.

It was Harvey White’s header on his full Football League debut which would be the difference between the sides in yet another tight encounter.

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Yet for their progressive second-half display alone, it was a fully warranted outcome for Pompey.

Although it did take three superb stoppage-time saves from Craig MacGillivray to seal the triumph.

Jackett’s men have been immensely frustrating to watch for much of the turn of the year, shedding their image of promotion challengers.

But tonight they were back on it, hard to beat, combative and impeccably organised across the pitch.

Utilising Ronan Curtis in attack alongside the recalled Ellis Harrison, the duo were an energetic presence throughout.

The match winner, however, was a 19-year-old on loan from Spurs, whose second-half header met man-of-the-match’s Callum Johnson’s cross.

White, with six previous substitute outings for the Blues, was entrusted with a start, asked to operate on the left-hand side of midfield.

It was a selection which paid huge dividends by securing victory.

And with it an admirable riposte to the deserved cascade of criticism over the weekend in the aftermath of that Blackpool loss.

Maybe, just maybe, the beast is stirring. Certainly the Kassam Stadium is a fine place to kickstart a fading promotion bid back into life.

Pompey had dropped John Marquis in their efforts to return to winning ways.

The Blues’ leading scorer found himself on the bench following a period of indifferent form during the team’s worrying dip in results.

He was replaced by Ellis Harrison in attack as Kenny Jackett made three changes for the Kassam Stadium encounter.

Elsewhere, Lee Brown was recalled to left-back in place of Charlie Daniels, who had started the previous five matches.

While there was a maiden start for Harvey White, coming in for Ryan Williams and his full Pompey debut.

The Spurs loanee operated on the left of a 4-4-2, with Ronan Curtis pushed up alongside Harrison in attack.

Meanwhile, Jack Whatmough and Jordy Hiwula were once again on the bench, while Michael Jacobs, James Bolton and Alex Bass remain sidelined by injury.

Oxford delivered the first goal attempt of the match when, on three minutes, Sam Winnall rifled a left-footed shot just over the bar from the left-hand side of the penalty area.

Harrison was then given a glimpse of goal when he was alert to the ball ricocheting into the box and chased Jack Stevens to it.

The Pompey striker got there first, but the keeper blocked, while White was sent sprawling as he attempted to pounce on the loose ball, yet there was no foul.

On 12 minutes, Callum Johnson’s delivery from the right found its way to Harrison, whose right-footed snap-shot ballooned into the car park behind the U’s goal.

Curtis was the first to be booked when, on 13 minutes, he caught Sam Long after the full-back had cleared.

Oxford’s Olamide Shodipo then had a great opportunity following an incisive attack into the Blues’ box, but Johnson produced a magnificent block to thwart the subsequent shot.

It was proving a tight affair, although Andy Cannon did feed Johnson down the right on 23 minutes and his left-footed cross to the far post was met with a Curtis header and comfortably caught by Stevens.

The visitors were largely neat and tidy, yet couldn’t sufficiently threaten the Oxford goal for all their encouraging forays forward.

Curtis was making a pest of himself up front, while Harison was putting himself about, but they had yet to be presented with a golden scoring opportunity.

With half time approaching, Curtis drilled in a cross from the left which was steered well wide of the far post by White.

There were no substitutions for either side at the break as both teams set about the second half seeking to seize the initiative.

It was Jackett’s men who claimed the lead on 48 minutes through a superbly-worked goal.

Johnson delivered a first-time ball from the right and there was White arriving 10-yards outto steer a flying header into the net.

How the youngster celebrated – and didn’t he deserve the acclaim.

Pompey’s tails were up and on 51 minutes Curtis won a corner down the right, which White delivered left footed, and was cleared by the hosts.

The visitors were sensing more and when Harness clipped in a cross from the right it fell to Cannon, who struck a powerful half-volley straight at Stevens.

On 63 minutes, the game’s first substitution was Williams for Harness on Pompey’s right flank.

Oxford then made a double substitution on 65 minutes with Mark Sykes and Elliot Lee replaced by Alex Gorrin and Brandon Barker.

Johnson was having a superb game at right-back and when he cleverly slipped in Williams, the substitute cut across and fired in a left-foot shot saved low down by Stevens.

There was a scare for Pompey on 74 minutes when a mix up between Rasmus Nicolaisen and MacGillivray saw the pair collide.

However, Raggett was well positioned to clear the ball away from an unguarded net and Oxford players descending.

Moments later, Marquis was introduced for Curtis, with the Irishman a red card concern having surely been on his final warning.

White delivered another attempt on goal, saved by Stevens, and the Blues looked full value for their lead.

Certainly Oxford were barely offering anything in response, although the announcement of five minutes of time added on did generate late hope.

A fierce shot from outside the box by substitute Anthony Forde was met with an excellent low save from MacGillivray.

Then the Scot raced off his line to thwart Shodipo as he burst through, followed by a stunning flying fingertip save in the dying second.

Late heroics by the keeper as the Blues stood firm and registered a precious result which could well alter the course of their season.