New Oxford boss Karl Robinson defeated by Portsmouth in first game since switch from Charlton

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 25 March 2018, 20:40

Karl Robinson made the switch from Charlton to Oxford earlier in the week, but then came unstuck in his first game in charge as the Yellows sunk to a 3-0 defeat at Portsmouth. 

Gabriel Sutton (@FootbalLab) plucks out the main talking points below.

Pitman pounces for Pompey

On a day that saw Brett Pitman take his seasonal goal tally to 17 with a well-earned brace, it was perhaps unfortunate that Portsmouth’s 3-0 win over Oxford United will be remembered mainly by off-the-ball matters.

Nathan Thompson might not be overly proud of the way he goaded Alex Mowatt seconds after his penalty hit the post, especially considering he was on a yellow card at that point. On another day, Mowatt might not have retaliated, Thompson might have got a second yellow for unsporting behaviour and the game might have assumed a very different complexion.

Pompey rode their luck, but one might argue there was also an extent to which they made it through clinical finishing. It took them just five minutes to convert a positive start into a lead as centre-back Matt Clarke, often a threat from set pieces this season, knocked Dion Donahue’s left-sided corner back across goal for the alert Kal Naismith to ram the ball home.

Donahue and Naismith’s quality deliveries made them central figures in the early stages; the latter could have had a brace inside eight minutes, but his diving header from Conor Ronan’s cross flew just wide.

Midfielders Ronan and Ben Close, as the half went on, became increasingly prone to giving possession away in dangerous areas. When Portsmouth didn't have control of the midfield, which was the case for long periods, they relied on a combination of luck and good defending from Jack Whatmough.

The academy graduate was colossal at centre-back, making several important clearances in a performance that might keep him above Christian Burgess in Pompey’s pecking order.

The hosts, managed by Kevin Gallen with Kenny Jackett absent for personal reasons, were aided by Mowatt's penalty miss and his subsequent sending off. However, not every team manages a numerical advantage quite as well as they did and substitute Gareth Evans' arrival also contributed to the controlled finale.

Jamal Lowe thrived on the extra space and his speedy wide play helped create a further two goals for Pitman, who had worked hard all afternoon and finished his chances ruthlessly.

This was far from a perfect performance from Pompey, who could just as easily have drawn or lost had events on the hour mark not fallen their way, but superiority in both boxes proved the crucial difference.

Mowatt’s red miss-t descends

After taking charge of Oxford United for the first time on Sunday, Karl Robinson can be encouraged by his side’s performance, but the 3-0 defeat at Fratton Park hinged on two second half moments: which came within seconds of one another.

Had Alex Mowatt equalized from the spot, a final half hour of eleven against eleven might have assumed a favourable trajectory. Instead, the one-time Leeds academy graduate hit the post, then responded to Nathan Thompson’s subsequent provocation by slapping him in the face. The game was thereon taken away from the Yellows, who are now forced to reflect on a costly defensive mishap.

Ashley Smith-Brown’s concentration is not yet in line with the intensity of the professional game and that was evident in the early stages, even if he was not the only culprit when Portsmouth scored their fifth-minute opener.

Todd Kane and Rob Dickie got in each other’s way from the left-sided corner and when neither won the initial aerial ball, Kal Naismith’s would-be markers Smith-Brown and Ryan Ledson were too far away from the goalscorer.

Oxford improved as the first half progressed. James Henry, who combined nicely with Todd Kane and Mowatt, showed clever movement into wide areas and the 28-year-old’s 21st minute shot hit the crossbar.

That moment catalysed a sustained period of tidy, fluid passing, during which we saw the more positive aspects of Smith-Brown’s game. The Man City loanee’s curling right-footed effort flew narrowly wide of the far post, then on 32 minutes he fed Malachi Napa, who turned quickly to force a save from the goalkeeper.

Napa showed the kind of exuberance that caught Karl Robinson’s eye, even if the nifty forward’s partner, Wes Thomas, may need upgrading on in the summer. Creativity for the duo was rarely in short supply: Ledson showed an impressive range of passing from deep; the midfielder fired over from 20-yards as Oxford continued to probe early in the second half.

They had a golden opportunity on the hour mark when Dickie was pushed following a corner but Mowatt’s penalty miss - and his subsequent slap – gave Oxford a man disadvantage with which they were unable to compete.

Defeat means Robinson’s side remain only five points above the drop zone, but a continuation of performances like the one on Sunday – only with better defending from set pieces and more sensible conduct - they will soon extend that gap.

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Graham Westley
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