Portsmouth 1 Oxford United 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Harsh yet familiar outcome as Kenny Jackett drifts further away from promotion goal
Kenny Jackett lingered on the touchline at the final whistle, his sights trained on match officials taking a little longer than the norm to leave the field.
He finally stood down from his post once hands were shaken and respectful pleasantries exchanged during the emptying of a disgruntled Fratton Park.
Referee Ben Toner may have been hoodwinked repeatedly, frustratingly oversensitive towards run-of-the mill challenges hardly warranting rebuke.
Yet the final outcome was not his fault – nor was the ever-composed Jackett interested in admonishing the official.
Instead, Pompey’s under-fire boss will largely shoulder the blame for the 1-1 draw which attracted boos at the final whistle.
There was even a rendition of ‘We want Jackett out’ in the immediacy of Oxford United’s Matty Taylor’s last-gasp leveller.
Critics continuing to multiply will point accusingly at the reticence to employ substitutes and the decision to withdraw man-of-the-match Ross McCrorie.
The wider picture portrays a side 15th in League One, 12 points short of the automatic promotion spots.
Regardless, it was difficult not to summon a smidgen of sympathy towards the character cutting an isolated figure positioned so patiently in front of the South Stand.
Jackett is becoming increasingly detached from the Fratton faithful’s affections with every unfavourable outcome, particularly one as unkind as Saturday.
He remains a good man, continuing to handle his Fratton Park role with great dignity, refusing to flinch under the flurry of blows impacting upon this purported promotion campaign.
In the context of this spluttering season, the Blues were good against Oxford, very good. Credit where it is undoubtedly due.
Yet, for the third-successive Saturday, there was late heartbreak, a goal conceded on 90 minutes and beyond to deprive a team lagging behind promotion rivals of more crucial points.
It was harsh, another brutal setback for the Blues boss, who afterwards when addressing the media, ever the pragmatist, refused to focus on obvious positives oozing from the display.
Intent on facing reality, there could no sugar-coating – Pompey’s late vulnerability once more scrubbing the gloss off a heartening display.
No excuses, no accusatory finger thrust in the direction of match officials, certainly no construction of a barricade to deflect criticism, merely acceptance that his team had again been undone by a worrying malaise.
Coventry, Wycombe, Wimbledon, Bristol Rovers and, new entry, Oxford. This is no blip, it’s a blight threatening promotion aspirations – and Jackett’s job.
In the past three weekends alone, they have surrendered five points at the death, a ridiculous tally for a side already scrambling around for wins to maintain pursuit of the leading pack.
Pompey did impress, however, it should be made clear. Don’t let a scoreline distract from a performance which established themselves as worthy winners.
Jackett’s troops can be denounced for awful game management, failure to kill time in corners of the pitch and an absence of dabbling in the dark arts to slow proceedings. Oh for Nathan Thompson.
However, it should not detract from the fact Saturday generated a display to be applauded. Well, for the most part.
The boos at the final whistle signalled a point Oxford barely deserved – and for the relinquishing of what was long suggested a comfortable triumph.
Had it not been for the glaring soft underbelly continuing to devastate this season, it would have been victory. Instead, Pompey have won four from 14 league games.
Michael Eisner may have delivered his cast-iron backing in the week, with board members Eric Eisner and Andy Redman surveying the latest fixture from the Fratton Park stands.
Nonetheless, the Blues are falling short this season, particularly when challenged during the closing stages of matches.
There is nothing to suggest this side is equipped to seize automatic promotion. The play-offs, certainly, Jackett’s men possess plentiful talent and remaining games to achieve that target.
Yet it’s November – and still, despite constant reshaping of the team, they cannot resolve their late woes.
On Saturday, as the fourth official was in the process of indicating four minutes of time added on, James Henry flung in a deep cross from the right-hand touchline.
There was Taylor at the far post, ahead of Christian Burgess to plant an angled header back across goal for the leveller.
The 1,747 away followers located in the Milton End erupted, their team’s 12-match unbeaten run preserved when hope had seemingly run down.
This is Pompey, however, a team presently tossing away points in the closing minutes of fixtures, games when they generally have justified victory.
Oxford should have been condemned to defeat long before, such was the dominance of Jackett’s side as they restricted one of League One’s most in-form clubs to a supporting role.
Ronan Curtis’ mojo has returned, Ryan Williams continues to catch the eye, Ben Close produced a welcome return to high standards – and they possessed the lead.
McCrorie drilled a pass into the feet of John Marquis, who cleverly laid the ball off to Close as he broke into the penalty area from his deep-lying midfield position.
Substitute Elliott Moore was undone by the fluency of the move, tripping Pompey’s man to hand over a 59th-minute penalty which Gareth Evans crashed home.
There could be no debate, it was cast-iron and fully deserved for hosts playing some of their finest attacking football of the season.
Only nine minutes earlier, Curtis had rattled the crossbar with a fierce left-footed effort from the angle which keeper Simon Eastwood appeared to have somehow touched.
Fearing their side sitting back, at one point the Fratton end chanted ‘Attack, attack, attack’ and the Blues continued to pour forward for another to kill the contest.
Further opportunities fell their way too, Eastwood saving from Williams low down, while the Australian winger also lobbed over with just the keeper to beat following Craig MacGillivray’s booming goal-kick.
Concerned over the possibility of McCrorie being sent off, Jackett sent on James Bolton at right-back five minutes from time, a sensible substitution.
Others craved fresh legs in other positions to maintain momentum in the victory charge – then it happened.
Taylor popped up to secure ill-gotten gains and an increasingly lonely Jackett has been cast a little further adrift by the majority of the Fratton faithful.