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2 March 2015

Chris Upfield's take on goalless Fratton draw

Pompey’s impressive February ended on a slight anti-climax as they were held to a goalless draw at Fratton Park.

With James Dunne suspended, Nigel Atangana had a rare start in a deeper than usual midfield role, and Jack Whatmough’s injury meant that Ben Chorley joined Joe Devera and Paul Robinson in defence.

The game started at a good pace, with Ryan Taylor asserting an aerial superiority over his markers in the early stages, leading to a fair share of second ball for Wallace and Tubbs in particular. But it was Tubbs’ headed flick which created the first good chance for Ryan Taylor 10 yards out but his shot was blocked.

Oxford’s lively striker Danny Hylton then fired in a low shot from 25 yards out, which Paul Jones gathered at the second attempt.

Shortly afterwards, both Tubbs and Taylor shot over after moves down the left, but Pompey came closest to scoring on 16 minutes, with Jed Walace’s mazy run ending in a low shot which was angling towards the corner of the Milton goal before a full length save from Oxford keeper Clarke, who tipped the ball just the wrong side of the post from Pompey’s perspective.

The best chance of the half also fell to Pompey on the half-hour mark when Dan Butler’s free-kick delivery found Paul Robinson with the freedom of the city just 10 yards out, but he could only head over.

The game was flowing nicely, helped by an unfussy referee whose non-intervention in the proceedings meant that some robust challenges went unpenalised on both sides, but at least the howls for free-kicks seemed to be equally noisy from both ends of the ground.

Oxford were enjoying an increasing share of the possession as the half went on, but apart from a couple of scares which were dealt with capably by the Pompey defence before Jones could be exposed, it was Pompey who had created more of the clear-cut chances.

The last of the first half fell to Matt Tubbs whose header from Butler’s cross looked destined to loop over Clarke before the keeper clawed it behind, a save of which the watching David James would have approved.

The first half had ended with Pompey on top, but without a goal to break the deadlock. The second started in more scrappy fashion, the ball increasingly spending more time in the air as players vied to see who could head the ball the furthest.

Nigel Atangana repeatedly tried to end the head tennis by bringing the ball down, but was invariably closed down quickly by the visiting midfield. 

It was beginning to look as though a goal would come from a mistake and Oxford errors in short succession would first enable Matt Tubbs to screw a low shot just wide from a tight angle, while Jed Wallace then found himself clear to fire a fierce shot fizzing into the Fratton End.

The game fell into a pattern of midfield attrition, with neither side able to carve out clear-cut chances. Dan Butler was finding some space on the left but, to the frustration of the crowd, often found himself going backwards in search of support and flowing football down the left was in any event thwarted by a dreadful playing surface.

Both sides made their substitutions, Andy Barcham replacing Josh Passley and Tubbs leaving the action in favour of Craig Westcarr, but apart from one occasion when Ryan Taylor found himself momentarily though on goal before a last ditch challenge spooned the ball up into Clarke’s arms, the game petered out to a goalless conclusion. 

The outcome would probably have satisfied the ex-Pompey manager Michael Appleton more, but Pompey remained unbeaten in February and Andy Awford must have been pleased with the defensive solidity which must have left Paul Jones wishing he’d bought a pair of hand-warmers.

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