Oxford United 3 Portsmouth 2: Neil Allen's verdict - Forget sideshows and distractions, buried amid controversy was Blues performance to be proud of

Karl Robinson’s squad congregated in the centre of the pitch, conveniently well distanced from the disappearing opposition.

Sunday, 6th February 2022, 9:00 am

Perhaps wisely considering when the teams previously left the pitch it resulted in an Oxford United member of staff requiring medical attention and the second half delayed by 25 minutes.

Quite what occurred within the confines of that Kassam Stadium tunnel has still to be publicly established, with all parties downplaying the incident, albeit wholly unconvincingly.

Nonetheless, there was sufficient ill-feeling still lingering for the players to be noticeably separated from each other in the aftermath of a dramatic finale.

Sign up to our Portsmouth FC newsletter

Off the pitch, somebody from Oxford’s support staff sustained a head injury following the aforementioned fall, while on it there were 11 yellow cards, a dismissal, and Kieron Freeman departing with concussion and a rolled ankle.

Certainly such statistics portray a bad tempered affair, blighted by unbridled aggression and tempers running high. Either that or it was a wretched refereeing display by an over-officious Samuel Barrott.

Ah yes Barrott, the match official whose red carding of Pompey’s Joe Morrell was even disagreed with by a number of home players, not that they tried to deter such punishment in the moment, of course.

Still, for all such distractions amid the sideshows and commotions alternately captivating our attention, focus should not be diverted from what was a heartening Blues’ display.

Agony for 10-man Pompey as Nathan Holland nets an Oxford United in the sixth minute of time added on. Picture: Barry Zee

Granted, it was third straight loss which leaves Danny Cowley’s men 14 points adrift of the play-offs and without a League One victory in 2022.

Yet this was a Pompey team performance dripping with heart, passion and battling spirit which should not be overlooked purely because of narratives running elsewhere.

The visitors where challenged to scrap for 74 minutes away from home with 10 men – and it took a goal six minutes into time added on to finally defeat them.

Forget the tunnel cover up, Barrott’s incompetence and Timmy Mallett popping up to the press box during the lengthy delay, nothing should be allowed to overshadow a gutsy Blues showing which should be applauded.

Undoubtedly, the 1,754 travelling support were appreciative of their team’s efforts, reflected by their noisy contributions throughout which contrasted significantly to the current Fratton Park atmosphere malaise.

Cowley’s troops warranted something from the fixture, even a point would have been a fine outcome considering the testing circumstances.

Read More

Read More
For the latest Pompey news direct to your inbox sign up for our free newsletter

As it was, they ended up enduring late heartbreak as substitute Nathan Holland crashed a stunning effort into the far corner of the net from outside the box in time added-on.

The growing inevitability of a sixth successive season in League One is understandably prompting tempers to fray among the Fratton faithful, while yet another uninspiring January window has added to the anger.

A window which saw £200,000 outlaid on Denver Hume, Tyler Walker elevated to top earner following his loan from Coventry, and the playing budget slightly increased.

Regardless, still no Ben Thompson, still no additional midfielder and, to rub salt into gaping wounds, John Marquis has scored in three straight games for Lincoln after netting 10 in his previous 55 outings.

Yet all that growing animosity should be put aside to acknowledge a gallant, backs-to-the-walls showing from the Blues at the home of an Oxford United closing in on a top-six League One finish.

If you cannot find a scrap of admiration for Saturday’s performance, then you never will. Sometimes praise is deserved, even begrudgingly.

The U’s could have been a turning point, a magnificent against-all-odds victory to inspire the fans and reinvigorate belief in Cowley’s project and on-going overhaul.

This is his team, with only Sean Raggett, Ronan Curtis, Marcus Harness and Jacobs preceding his time at the club, such have been his extensive recruitment efforts.

Instead Saturday ended in a 3-2 reverse, yet the manner of Pompey’s performance demonstrated a team spirit the supporters could be proud of. Despite the players’ burning sense of injustice over Morrell, they didn’t capitulate, they bared their teeth and fought away.

On occasions, defeat doesn’t define a performance – and Oxford was one such instance.

Cowley had gone into the match deprived of Mahlon Romeo (ankle) and Shaun Williams (fractured spine), reducing his meagre squad to just 18 available players.

Although the duo’s absence was enforced, there were five changes for the trip to the Kassam Stadium in a bid to kickstart his stuttering team back into life.

Leading scorer Marcus Harness, skipper Clark Robertson and January recruit Walker all dropped to a bench which also included deadline-day signing Aiden O’Brien and the fit-again Ryan Tunnicliffe.

In came Michael Jacobs, Ronan Curtis, Connor Ogilvie, Louis Thompson and Freeman, yet the much-debated wing-back system remained.

Jacobs, marking just his second leading appearance of the season, would inevitably justify his inclusion with man-of-the-match display, consisting of a goal and assist.

Indeed, his leveller on 10 minutes was his fifth in his last 12 outings as he continues to demonstrate the creative calibre so glaringly missing from Pompey’s play of late.

The hosts had taken a seven-minute lead through McNally’s free header from Billy Boden’s left-wing corner, losing Hayden Carter to head home unchallenged from eight yards.

Oxford’s advantage was to be brief, though, Gavin Bazunu’s long free-kick was flicked on by George Hirst, and Curtis gave chase with the ball seemingly set to run out for a goal kick.

The Irishman then cleverly backheeled the ball to keep it in play, where it was collected by Freeman, who unselfishly squared it for Jacobs to tap home left-footed from eight yards.

Then, on 16 minutes, the diminutive Morrell was pulled up by the referee after lifting his foot for a loose ball and connecting with the body of Brannagan.

Barrott took his time, Morrell even went to have a drink before returning, and the red card was brandished, reducing the Blues to 10 men.

Yet on 51 minutes they took the lead, Hirst finding Jacobs’ who had the vision to slip a pass through to Curtis on the right, with the Irishman calmly applying a first-time left-footed finish.

Then, in the 82nd minute, Brannagan, 25 yards from goal, took a touch and, despite Tunnicliffe running towards him, let fly with a wonderful right-footed effort into the far corner to make it 2-2.

More agony was to come for Pompey, however, when Holland cut inside from the left and unleashed a right-footed shot from outside the box which struck the inside of the far post on its way into the net.

The Blues looked disconsolate, yet should be proud of their efforts. Perhaps this may be a turning point after all.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

You can support our local team of expert Pompey writers by subscribing here for all the latest news from Fratton Park for 9p a day, thanks to our 30%-off transfer window deal.