Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.33 – Portsmouth at home

Article by Paul Beasley Thursday, February 25th, 2021  


Pre-match thinking

I was able to attend those two home league games when a few fans were permitted to cross the threshold but it was all very eerie. Whilst preferable to being sat in front of iFollow it was miles removed from the match day buzz of old so in a way it feels like the season has not really started. Yet here we are – after tonight’s game we will have completed over 60% of our league fixtures.

At times during the pandemic I have said that I’d be happy to come out the other side with OUFC still existing and not in financial ruin. With survival being the key, is promotion just a secondary target? I hope not and am sure it isn’t. It’s the same for all in L1 give or take the difference that size of club, debt pre-crisis and probably integrity and resilience of owners brings to the mix.

So the importance of this clash is glaringly obvious. There’s always something that little bit extra special about Oxford v Pompey home and away. It’s clearly not a local derby but there’s a rivalry that for many reasons has built up over the years.  Whilst the edge on the pitch might be the same whoever we are playing, that’s certainly not the case on the terraces or in modern football speak in the stands.

This will be the fourth time we’ve not been able to attend OUFC taking on Portsmouth.

We know we’ve not played particularly well in February but in no way have we fallen apart. We failed to hit the back of the net against both Ipswich and Tranmere but it’s not as if we’ve been leaking loads ourselves. (Okay, I’ll accept Rochdale and Donny in a counter argument).

We know we’ve not beaten any of the real contenders at the top end of the table but that is what we have to start doing sooner rather than later if we are to end up top six.

Portsmouth are fifth coming into this, four points better off than we are but having played a game more. It’s imperative that we don’t let them get away. Their record on their travels is a daunting won eight, drawn two and lost two. The bookies make them favourites for this game. The best odds I can find for them to get promotion is 7/4. For us it is 6/1. (As an aside Bet Victor are offering 14/1 on Accrington).

So it seems we have been classed as the underdogs yet in their last seven league matches they’ve only averaged a point a game. They didn’t score in three of those games. They’ve lost the last two. A week after we went to the Memorial Ground and won, Portsmouth were beaten there 3-1.

Play as we did during that fantastic winning run and our billing could look a little silly.

Oxford United 0 Portsmouth 1

Not silly at all as it turned out.

We continue to play, as I said above, not particularly well. The defence is okay but the rest of it is devoid of almost everything that is needed to be a winning side against all but the worst of opponents at this level.  Yet in the last two or three of the added minutes at the end of the game we went for it, properly went for it. We were so close. For the first time in the whole evening the adrenalin was pumping; the surroundings had gone; I was actually at the game. Every one of our players came to life and about bloody time I say. But FFS why leave it so late? Too late as it happened.

At the final whistle my verdict was Pompey deserved that. My son countered that by pointing to the final flurry and the chances we had then. During the second half when I’d commented that the visitors were the better team his answer had been there couldn’t be too many complaints if it was still a draw. That is true and apart from the goal we were never in a position where it was a case of “we got away with one there”.

I’ll still stick with my thinking that we got what we deserved though. Nothing. We fail the big tests. We have played three games now and have not scored. We look nothing like a team that could step up to the Championship. (Sits back and waits for the inevitable comments pointing out that if we were to go up the team next season would look very different). Okay, we look nothing like a team capable of getting into the Championship.

That said I don’t think this L1 has the quality of some of the others we’ve been in. There’s no outstanding team. Portsmouth didn’t do anything that had me thinking they’ll definitely be playing in tier 2 next season. Much more likely than us though.

I didn’t know what our game plan was. Like against Tranmere we allowed the opposition to assert themselves from the moment the first whistle blew. Yes we did end up with more possession than Portsmouth but it’s what a team does with the ball that counts. When we had it we didn’t have runners or movement up front. Whenever it looked like we had the potential to unleash something resembling an attack we had to go backwards. We had no attacking shape. Sam Winnall wasn’t getting any service.

I’ve tried to talk Winnall up. Previously I’ve said that once he gets a goal we’ll see a lot from him. That’s not happened. Unless something changes soon he’ll be in the “mistake, move on” category. Having seen him for Barnsley against us at Wembley I went home thinking, that’s some player. I know for a fact that’s not the player we are seeing in 20/21. Why? Another quote from my son, “I don’t know what sort of forward Winnall is or is supposed to be. We keep knocking it long to him and he’s not winning it”.

Please don’t think I’m looking for a scapegoat here. Many were underwhelming. No-one grabbed hold of proceedings. Cameron Brannagan was steady but you wouldn’t call that the performance of a midfield general controlling and pulling the strings. (I’m expecting too much too soon after his return? Probably)

Time now to mention a man who wasn’t playing. Come the end of the game I’d just about accepted that we will be kicking off the next campaign in L1. (Not totally given up the dream though). It wasn’t that which deflated me. Nor that we came up short in an important game. No, it was the proclamation by the commentary team just before the break that Marcus McGuane is likely to be out for the season. For me he was a huge piece in the jigsaw which read OUFC top six or automatic. A string puller. A strong runner with the ball in midfield. A player who gives his team-mates confidence and inspires them to play. I might have over-stated his case but without him I think our chances are dramatically reduced.

Olamide Shodipo did a little bit here and there but was hardly in the game. Neither was Mark Sykes from an attacking or creative perspective. Other than a couple of shots in the first quarter of the game the same could be said about James Henry. When I got to thinking Elliot Lee just might, he didn’t. He faded.

Basically we were devoid of attacking ideas. Or was it ability when facing a side above us? Been found out?

The introduction of Brandon Barker for Sykes with 25 minutes to go did our cause no harm. Initially though BB was being crowded out quite easily and lost the ball. Running with it is his game. Given that there was little going on around him what else could he do? Nothing but keep at it and get a ball or two in the box, which he did. At bloody last. All to no avail though but it felt better. It felt like I was now watching a team that had an inkling how to score a goal.

As for the only goal of the game. It was simplicity: a good cross in; a player coming in completely unmarked to head the ball beyond the keeper. Who should have picked him up? A midfielder or centre-half? I hope the coaching staff have the answer and the solution for next time. As for the next time I’ll just take it as a game of football and ignore any thoughts of the top six.

MK Dons did let in four at Shrewsbury. We are still eighth. No, stop it.

Before I sign off I would like to thank OUFC. I do like a good drink but in normal circumstances leave that for the weekend. Tonight I lasted until half time then the beer was opened – it’s the fidgety tension that does it – and more afterwards. Defeat is hard to take and the recognition that we don’t look good enough – and I couldn’t even bring myself to say “quite” good enough.

But Saturday is another day.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 25th, 2021 at 10:00 am and appears under News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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