Fan’s View – 2019/20 – no.21 – Portsmouth away

02-11-2019 Division 3
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Oxford United OUFC
Article by Paul Beasley Monday, November 4th, 2019  

PORTSMOUTH AWAY

Our Opponents

Ten years ago Pompey were in the Premier League finishing bottom 11 points worse off than the team immediately above them. Their subsequent plummet was spectacularly alarming for their supporters. Back in the Championship they survived their first season finishing 16th but the next two campaigns each ended in relegation. In 2012/13 they were nine points adrift of Hartlepool who were second bottom. Even if they’d not been given a 10 point deduction for going into administration they would have still been well short of the tally required for survival.

Their first two seasons in the bottom tier of the EFL were nothing to write home about as they finished 13th and then 16th.  They came back to life somewhat in 15/16 but lost to Plymouth in the play-off semi-finals. That though was a sign of intent and next season they won the L2 championship on goal difference.  Then in 2017/18 they finished 8th five points shy of the play-off places and last season made the semi-finals where Chris Maguire got the only goal in the two legged affair.

They currently sit in 16th position on 17 points. That’s eight behind us but they do have two games in hand. If they’re looking at this positively they’ll be thinking beat Oxford and win those two and we’ll be a point above them. They are unbeaten at Fratton Park, drawing three and beating Tranmere, Bolton and Lincoln.

Their support always holds up and they have a current average home attendance of 17,936 which is the third best in L1 behind Sunderland and Ipswich.

Their latest accounts which are for year ending June 30, 2018 showed a loss of £1.37m. Net assets though were £12.6m which includes a £10m outlay from Torante the American private investment company that bought PFC in August 2017.

These accounts also show that £2.8m was spent on essential work which had needed to be done on Fratton Park’s infrastructure. This figure also including purchasing strategic assets, whatever that entailed. Admin expenses were £3.8m. They spent £741k on player recruitment including agents’ fees and had an income of £476k from player sales. Their total wage bill including players and everyone else came to £5.8m.

Portsmouth 1 Oxford United 1

This was always going to be a very different away day experience. On our two previous visits to Fratton Park I travelled with a walking footballer as a mere spectator/pub goer. I again got a lift with the same fellow, Tim, but this time as a participant. I’m usually a Bicester Fossil and this was the first time I’ve put on an Oxford United Walking Football Club shirt.  In my younger days I played local football but can’t ever remember getting soaked through to the core like we did here. Strangely though that’s not noticeable when you’re actually running (I mean walking) about in it. It’s only afterwards.

My opinion of walking football has changed massively over the last 18 months since I started playing and could now quite easily regularly rattle off as many words covering the sport (yes it is a sport) as I do when spewing out each FV.

All I’ll say here is that we lost both games, 6-3 and 3-2 (or was it 4-3?) by my reckoning although Tim who likes to re-write history thinks we drew. It was noticeable that the Pompey lads (old men like us, really) play together regularly and we don’t. They’re a good friendly bunch and food was provided for all participants afterwards. Oxford had two teams of men taking on their Portsmouth counterparts and the women were going at it too. All this took place at Portsmouth FC’s training ground at the Roko Health Club in Copnor Road.

After sausage rolls, sarnies, crisps and donuts etc. had been consumed there was still time to get to Thatchers in the London Road and down a pint before the main event. This pub is no longer in the GBG but the beer is okay and it’s an establishment you feel comfortable in with the life size statue of Elvis still sitting at the bar.

With the walking football comes benefits. We were given one of those scratch card type tickets residents can acquire to hand out to friends and relations meaning we were able to legally park up in Alvestone Road which could hardly have been closer to the ground.

L&S South Stand Lower

Some people might consider the next freebie not to be beneficial at all: a free match ticket but the downside being they weren’t for the Milton End which houses the away fans.  Instead they were for the L&S South Stand Lower, the Nelson’s Family Zone. I would have been fine with paying up to sit/stand amongst my own kind but as my mates were all for not paying I decided to accompany them.

This was going to be something else. There’s an obvious need to keep one’s emotions to oneself. Family stand or not it’s only right to respect the fact that you’re in someone else’s territory by invitation. I wouldn’t like it if I had away fans gobbing off around me at the Kassam in the SSU. It was also going to be interesting to observe, at close quarters, the home fans reaction to the officials and players on both sides. I was expecting nothing less than great bias. That’s the way most football fans are.

As a season progresses it is possible to cluster runs of games together. The free scoring, clean sheet keeping, opposition battering period where we played unbelievable football is over (for now).  With this performance being quite like that against Sunderland four day earlier I’d say we’ve now entered a different phase. We now look human, which of course we are. We don’t look like we’ll score every time we attack. There’s more individual errors and we don’t seem to be finding as much space as we were. Factors contributing to this change have to be the injury crisis we are currently suffering. It had to catch up with us in the end and we definitely lose something without an in form and fit Cameron Brannagan in the team.  It’s not only the players that can’t play because of injury that’s having an impact but also those that are having to play when they’re becoming jaded and in need of a rest. We have some who are running much closer to empty than they were a few weeks back. Tariqe Fosu looks a bit tired and the spark and un-playability he possessed when ripping opponents apart is no longer quite there. Karl said we need to be careful not to over-play him yet he started in this and stayed on until the 70th minute.

Portsmouth were the better team for the first 80 minutes but once the stats are analysed probably not by as much of a distance as I’d thought on the day. In the final ten we were taking the game to them and looking a threat. That we’d not played anywhere near as well as we can but hung in there working hard to be within touching distance of taking a point with the clock ticking down is very pleasing indeed. It shows how professional we are and what great belief the squad have in themselves.

Football is played in the mind as well as with the body and whilst we kept coming with determination the Pompey players will have known that in two of their previous three games they’d dropped points in stoppage time. Make that three from four. The clock had recorded 90 minutes when Matty Taylor got his fourth league goal for us. This was only his sixth start.

So again we’d found a way and what a pleasure it was to hear Colin Murray say, on EFL on Quest, that “the longest unbeaten streak in the EFL belongs to Oxford”.

Ryan Williams was an energetic danger down the right hand side of the pitch and looked the most likely player on the field to create something as Pompey took control but we weren’t without a bit of threat ourselves.

We very nearly got the opening goal when Mark Sykes ended up with a ball from James Henry that Taylor could only help on its way with a toe poke as he was unable to gather it himself. With back to goal Sykes held off his marker, swivelled and got a shot away which beat keeper Craig MacGillivray but Sean Raggett was able to clear off the line. That clearance smacked into the prone stopper and was inches from rolling into the goal.

With a few minutes to go to the break we lost Josh Ruffels. It’s very rare to see him injured. I feared the worst when he went off. He’s our only recognised left back and was really having his work cut out dealing with Williams and the attacking play coming at him. How would we cope with someone playing out of position? Elliott Moore came on and went to centre-half with Rob Dickie moving to right back and Sam Long across to the left to play where JR had been. Dickie’s body language for the rest of the game told me that he wasn’t entirely happy where he now had to play although Tim says he always looks like that.

The second half unsurprisingly began with Portsmouth again in the ascendancy.

Williams picked up a ball that fell loose after Moore had jumped with John Marquis. Ronan Curtis was free to Williams’ left and received a pass that sent him wider than he would have liked but he still managed to get a shot away that hit the bar.

We were living dangerously. More attacks came down the right. It looked like Williams had been fouled by Alex Gorrin but referee Ben Toner waved play on. I wish he hadn’t. Two passes later Ben Close was taken out by Moore as he was about to get a shot on goal. This was a clear penalty but I don’t blame Moore at all. We’d been taken apart and our tall centre half had been left to deal with two men. We had players who just were not alert enough at tracking runners. I think it was James Henry who was particularly culpable in this episode.

Although he went the right way, Simon Eastwood never got a hand anywhere near Gareth Evans’ spot kick.

We’d buckled and it looked like we might fold beyond repair. They had us on the break in a 3 v 3 situation. Marquis’ pass to Evans had a bit too much weight on it which helped us but Eastwood had to fling himself to his left to prevent another goal flying into the back of his net.

Our keeper was now keeping us in it and our defensive shape was lacking. With most of our players in a line down the centre of the pitch Williams once more caused us real trouble as he ran at Dickie. The shot he produced required another great Eastwood save and Mous just got to the loose ball before Curtis.

With the game almost up I’d resigned myself to an experience I was no longer used to, drowning my sorrows post-match and picking over the bones of a defeat. How did it happen, why did it happen, what did we do wrong, who was to blame, could we have done better or were we just beaten by a better team? That sort of stuff.

Then with regulation time over we saw a prime example of training and endless hours of practice paying off. Playing keep ball in small coned off areas with quick first time pass and move is basic stuff but invaluable nevertheless. In a really tight space with the white shirts of the yellows being outnumbered 5 to 3 by the Pompey blue, the ball was swiftly moved about. Anthony Forde, Fosu’s replacement, received possession back first time from Sykes, then it was pushed down the line to Henry who, with the touch of a master of his craft, turned and dragged the ball back giving enough room to, whilst falling backwards, deliver a high cross to the far post knowing that Taylor was there waiting. MacGillivray had to run across his goal and MT rose and headed in to where he’d come from. A true finisher in exactly the right place to score such a goal.

I felt very satisfied and smug.

But it wasn’t quite over. We still had to see out the remainder of the four added minutes or try and grab the extra two points available.

Curtis placed a ball across the face of our goal that no-one got on the end of and he sent another ball in which Williams really should have scored from instead of heading over. So it was they who came the closer to stealing it not us which made for a touch of relief when the game was ended.

So what was sitting in with the home fans like?

Some of the language from the youngsters was a bit ripe but the adults behaved in the way I’d expect of any crowd that is passionate about their team. They don’t rate Marquis. One told Kenny Jackett to “fucking sort it out.” They seemed to know what was coming before we equalised and knew that Jackett would not make any changes or adjustments which would make this outcome a lot less likely.

It wasn’t possible to hide that we weren’t home fans but we struck up a proper football conversation with two guys sat in front of us. When we explained why we were where we were there was no problem. They got up to leave just after we equalised but took the time to shake my hand before they exited.

I also have to say that I was mostly in agreement with their comments on referee Ben Toner and thought that he gave us some free-kicks where there was little if any infringement. Ross McCrorie’s booking in the incident when JR got injured was harsh. It was two totally committed players going for it 100% on a rain sodden surface with our man’s slide having got to the ball a fraction of a second before his opponent’s. It could easily have been the other way round. (I wonder if the locals’ reaction would have been different if that had been the case). Where I didn’t concur with their views was on Jamie Mackie’s treatment. That Toner did not stop the game when Mackie went down was unforgiveable. That he was covered in blood was clear evidence and even from my low down vantage point I could see that he’d been had. Perhaps in retaliation as Mackie had been booked in the 26th minute. That’s the way he plays the game but the laws are there to be used on those that dish punishment out to Jamie too.

Another interesting perspective when sitting away from our travelling fans is how they come over. Initially I have to say that I was a little disappointed that we didn’t sell out our ticket allocation in its entirety.  On reflection 1,747 (and seven of us in the family stand) was an acceptable turn out. I think that’s the biggest away following in the league they’ve had so far this season. The noise and support came across well too. I was very disappointed when there was some singing by a small handful during the Remembrance Day proceedings but was pleased that they were told by a fellow fan in no uncertain terms to desist, which they did. Those people showed no class whatsoever.

(Updated 4/11 – It has subsequently been pointed out to me by many decent Oxford fans that there was confusion and lack of clear communication as to what was happening on the pitch regarding Remembrance Day and that the Oxford fans who were singing were outside the ground and oblivious as to what was going on. Also from where I was sat I had the benefit of being able to see the big screen that is situated above the away end. Happy to be corrected and no offence intended.)

I don’t feel the need to rub it in when we’ve beaten anyone unless there are unusual or mitigating circumstances. Again I know it’s what (some) football fans do but when a group of Oxford fans leaving the ground found the need to follow up “One nil and you fucked it up” with “You’re going down with the Bolton” I thought is that really necessary?  Or a nailed on certainty? If the Trotters win their games in hand they’ll go past Southend. How about something original and witty. I find the same old chants a tiresome bore at times. As an old git I’m allowed to.

Time for the stats which give quite a bit of positive reading. We had 56% possession and won 51% of both duels and aerial duels. We made 360 passes to their 282. It surprised me but we played more long balls than them. Our 87 was 19 more than their total. Our passing accuracy was better than theirs too. 63% to 56% and we just edged it for passes in the opponents half, 52% to 51%.

They made four more tackles than we did which fits in with the possession stats and the number of clearances each side made was virtually similar.

This informs that in no way were we played off the park but attacking wise we were some way behind other than being Pompey’s equals in goals scored. They had 16 shots, six of which were on target. We had six shots but I’d argue we had more on target than the one recorded.

We were in the Steel Tank in Chandlers Ford, our drinking venue of choice when returning from Portsmouth, before six o’clock and the football chat was not of defeat. They serve wonderful pints in there but they taste all the better when supped after a finish like we’d just witnessed.

We don’t play again for another eight days and then our opponents are a team from the BetVictor Southern Premier South League. Which means we have a chance of rest and recuperation and should be able to put a team out to do the job without risking anyone who is not 100%. I’m not going to think the game is going to be won without taking it totally seriously though. I remember Marlow and what a good team we had then.

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