Portsmouth's hopes of automatic promotion were significantly dented after they fell to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Michael Appleton's Oxford United at Fratton Park.
Paul Cook's men were admittedly second best for most of a match that struggled to flow due to some poor passing and some infuriating petty decisions from referee Neil Swarbrick.
Pompey did have the best chance in first half as Marc McNulty's shot was cleared off the line but that was as good as it got as they struggled to break down a solid Oxford defence.
Debutant Ryan Fulton didn't have much to do before the break but that would soon change when he brought down Danny Hylton in the box to concede a penalty. He then did extremely well to save Liam Sercombe's spot kick and the follow up and some of the home fans must have thought it was going to be their day.
However, when Gareth Evans and McNulty collided during a Pompey attack, Oxford countered quickly and one long ball caught the defence off guard and allowed Jordan Bowery the space to slot the ball into the bottom corner.
There was much huffing and puffing from the Pompey players as they searched for an equaliser but some stout opposition defending and a reluctance to shoot meant that it was always unlikely and a fourth defeat of the season was confirmed.
As mentioned before, Oxford deserved their win against a lightweight Pompey that were well below par but especially in attack as the front four were sluggish and allowed Appleton's men too much time to get organised at the back and when there was an opportunity, the final ball was lacking.
Adam Barton and Michael Doyle also found themselves outbattled in centre midfield, especially in the second half and that is out-of-character for the latter who was also sent off in the reverse fixture.
Perhaps the players were still feeling it after Tuesday's win over Ipswich? Oxford certainly looked fresher and more up for the fight and that would have played its part.
The defeat now means that Pompey are now seven points behind Oxford albeit with a game in hand. It's not an insurmountable gap but it's going to take a monumental effort to achieve automatic promotion based on the difference between the two teams on show yesterday.
Still, it's only January and although yesterday's loss would have raised some immediate defeatist attitudes amongst fans (myself included), if you take a step back, there are still a whopping twenty games left of the season to go and you can bet there will be plenty of twists in the promotion race yet.
But next weekend sees the return of the FA Cup and a tough test at home to Bournemouth before league action resumes as Pompey play one of their games in hand the following Tuesday at Morecambe.
Pompey Player Ratings
Ryan Fulton: 6 - Unforgettable debut but didn't have much to do bar penalty incident.
Ben Davies: 6 - Tried to make things happen.
Matt Clarke: 5 - Caught out too often.
Adam Webster: 6 - Solid for the most part.
Enda Stevens: 6 - Average.
Michael Doyle: 5 - Second best for much of the second half.
Adam Webster: 5 - Not his type of game.
Gareth Evans: 6 - Workmanlike showing.
Gary Roberts: 5 - Off the pace.
Kyle Bennett: 6 - Did a lot of running.
Marc McNulty: 5 - Only had one real chance but was snuffed out too easily.
Ben Close (Barton 54): 6 - Slotted in fine.
Adam McGurk (Roberts 63): 5 - No real impact.
Conor Chaplin (McNulty 82): N/A - Probably should have been brought on alongside McNulty, rather than as his replacement.