Portsmouth 3 Oxford United 2: Neil Allen's verdict - A victory to be savoured as Blues inflict delicious revenge following Kassam Stadium controversy

Danny Cowley had strongly played down suggestions of bad blood in the Fratton Park rematch against Oxford United.

Tuesday, 1st March 2022, 9:59 pm
Updated Tuesday, 1st March 2022, 10:07 pm
George Hirst fires off a shot in first-half time added on to hand Pompey a half-time lead against Oxford. Picture: Robin Jones/Digital South
George Hirst fires off a shot in first-half time added on to hand Pompey a half-time lead against Oxford. Picture: Robin Jones/Digital South

The question was a reasonable one considering the previous clash between the sides which prompted the Thames Valley Police and Football Association to launch an investigation.

The true circumstances behind the half-time tunnel incident which left a U’s member of staff requiring hospital treatment for a head injury still remain a little unclear.

Nonetheless, while Cowley did his best to pour water over a potential powder keg of a latest encounter not even a month later, it was clearly a 3-2 outcome he savoured.

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There was no toning down of celebrations on the touchline once referee Sam Allison had sounded the final whistle – and quite right too.

It was an excellent display, capped by Hayden Carter’s stunning 25-yard strike which lit up Fratton Park.

Certainly there were fears of another defeat to Karl Robinson’s men after Marcus Browne’s third minute goal in a match not without edge.

Then the game was turned on its head as Sean Raggett and George Hirst struck in the final three minutes of the first half.

Carter added another on 58 minutes to create a lead which proved to be unassailable, with Luke McNally’s consolation nine minutes from time unable to thwart a Blues triumph.

It was fully deserved too, with a rare triumph over top four clubs this season, while making it 13 points from 15 since that 3-2 defeat at the Kassam Stadium at the start of last month.

So sweet for Cowley – and his players – after the lingering injustice over that controversial encounter.

Cowley overhauled his Pompey side for Oxford’s visit, with Aiden O’Brien among five changes.

The former Sunderland man had netted a 95th-minute leveller against Fleetwood on Saturday following his entrance off the bench.

It represented a goal in three successive matches - and earned him a start against the U’s.

Also back in the team were Mahlon Romeo, Connor Ogilvie, George Hirst and Louis Thompson, with Cowley again demonstrating his willingness to ring the changes.

Ronan Curtis was absent through a two-match ban, yet also dropping out were Clark Robertson, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Tyler Walker and Reeco Hackett.

The injured Hackett didn’t make the 18-man squad, although Tunnicliffe, Walker and Robertson were on the bench.

There was also the surprise of Liam Vincent being among the substitutes, following an injury-wrecked season.

He is without a Pompey outing since his June 2021 arrival from Bromley, although the clash with Oxford signified his third time on the first-team bench.

With Cowley continuing to be short of numbers, Jay Mingi and Harry Jewitt-White were also in the squad, albeit without a Pompey League One outing between them.

Pompey were still without injured trio Michael Jacobs, Shaun Williams and Kieron Freeman.

It took just three minutes for the deadlock to be broken, through excellent work from Browne.

Nathan Holland pushed to the ball down the left, picked up by the attacker, who wrong-footed Sean Raggett with ease to create space on the outside.

Browne then rifled an angled left-footed finish past the advancing Gavin Bazunu to make it 1-0 at the end housing the away fans.

The Blues responded with Romeo pulling the ball back from the right to Thompson, whose right-footed shot from outside the box flew over the bar.

On 18 minutes, Ogilvie hooked a wonderful cross from the byline which was headed down by Romeo, however the ball bounced unkindly and Raggett was pulled up for handball.

The Blues then won their first corner, delivered by Marcus Harness from the left, but it drifted out at the far post with no team-mate attacking it.

Pompey had appeals for a penalty on 22 minutes when Thompson picked up a loose ball to surge into the box only to be outmuscled by Herbie Kane and fall to the floor.

Cowley led the protests from the touchline, but nothing was forthcoming from referee Sam Allison.

The game was getting spicy, with firstly the referee the recipient of chants of ‘You are embarrassing’ from the Fratton End following a number of soft decisions.

Then Oxford boss Karl Robinson held the ball, effectively shielding it, to prevent the hosts from taking a quick throw-in, actions picked up upon by the fans.

The Blues drew themselves level on 42 minutes from great work between Thompson and Hume in the build-up.

It was Hume who cut across the pitch before playing a right-footed pass to the right flank, where Joe Morrell was lurking.

The midfielder took his time before swinging in a cross which was met by the head of Raggett to find the far corner of the net to make it 1-1.

In two minutes of time added-on, Ogilvie blocked a clearance and it ricocheted kindly to Hirst, who dragged a first-time shot wide of the post.

However, Hirst made it 2-1 to Pompey moments later after Harness drove down the middle before flicking a pass to his right to the striker.

The Leicester loanee was calmness personified, moving forward before slotting a shot past the advancing Jack Stevens into the far corner to send the Blues in at the break leading.

The second half began with Oxford starting the stronger, yet proving wasteful in possession, particularly from decent crossing positions out wide.

Then Williams cut in from the right and curled a shot wide of the far post which initially appeared on target.

Yet it was 3-1 on 58 courtesy of a stunning Carter strike.

Morrell’s cross from the right was headed out and with the Blackburn loanee charging upfield to firstly control it, then take a touch, and culminated in a fierce right-footed 25-yard shot which found the net.

It was a wonderful goal – and the hosts now possessed a two-goal advantage.

On 65 minutes, Bazunu had to be alert to dive to his left and push out Sam Long’s swivelling shot following an Oxford corner.

A magnificent stop from Stevens on 74 minutes prevented the hosts grabbing a fourth, when the keeper somehow saved Hirst’s header from point-blank range following O’Brien’s cross.

The U’s reduced the deficit on 81 minutes when substitute Sam Baldock pulled the ball back and there was McNally to slot home a right-footed finish from eight-yards out.

Suddenly the visitors had hope – and then five minutes of time added on flashed up to raise spirits further.

But there was to be no late goal as witnessed at the Kassam Stadium and it was a noisy Fratton Park which rejoiced at the final whistle.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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