Portsmouth vs Oxford United Preview
By Jim Bonner
Updated Friday, 22nd January 2016
Pompey gear up for biggest game of the season so far.
Pompey take on Oxford United at Fratton Park tomorrow in a key game in the race for automatic promotion from League Two.
Liverpool loanee Ryan Fulton is likely to be handed his debut in goal at Brian Murphy's expense and Matt Clarke looks set to replace Christian Burgess in what otherwise should be an unchanged team from the one that defeated Ipswich on Tuesday.
Ex-Pompey strikers Ryan Taylor and Chris Maguire are set to miss out as Taylor is injured whilst Maguire has returned to parent club Rotherham. Striker Jordan Bowery could feature after he was snapped up by Michael Appleton today.
With four points separating the two teams, tomorrow's match is undoubtedly a huge one with Pompey fans knowing that a win will see their team just a point behind the U's with a game in hand.
After a stuttering start to his managerial career following farcical spells at Blackburn, Blackpool and, of course, Portsmouth, Michael Appleton has finally started to build himself a reputation now he's at a settled club rather than a basket case.
He has already claimed that his team won't come to Fratton Park and play for a draw, which can only be good news for Pompey fans as it has only been those teams that have shown little interest in attacking that have come away with a draw as Paul Cook's side have struggled to break them down.
If they play the open, expansive type of football they've been known for this season then that may play into Pompey's hands and would certainly make for an entertaining game.
Despite not having Taylor or Maguire available, Oxford still have plenty of players that can do some damage. Keemar Roofe is arguably the best player in League Two whilst Liam Sercombe and Callum O'Dowda are also capable of scoring from midfield. Danny Hylton is also one to watch up front.
Cook must decide whether to throw Fulton in at the deep end given that he won't have had any time to gel with his back four but can he rely on Murphy to keep his cool and not make a mistake in a match of such magnitude?
In Murphy's defence, he hasn't conceded a goal at Fratton Park since September 12th so it's a big decision for the manager. Whether Burgess keeps his place or is replaced by Clarke is a moot point as they've both been outstanding this season.
There's certainly enough in the Pompey team going forward to score against an Oxford side that don't keep many clean sheets. It's just a case of keeping them out at the other end given the amount of attacking talent the opposition possess.
Whilst this certainly isn't a "must win" game and a draw wouldn't be the worst result in the world in terms of eventually taking third place later in the season but a defeat would make automatic promotion extremely difficult to achieve.
It should be noted that there's another big match in League Two taking place tomorrow as Bristol Rovers (who overtook Pompey on Sunday with their win at Oxford) host leaders Plymouth. Northampton will be expected to beat Morecambe at home whilst Accrington are away at Exeter.
The promotion picture will become much clearer after tomorrow's fixtures and hopefully Pompey will still be very much in the chase for automatic promotion following a win tomorrow.
Predicted Starting Line-Ups
GK: Ryan FULTON
RB: Ben DAVIES
CB: Matt CLARKE
CB: Adam WEBSTER
LB: Enda STEVENS
DM: Michael DOYLE
DM: Adam BARTON
RM: Gareth EVANS
AM: Gary ROBERTS
LM: Kyle BENNETT
CF: Marc McNULTY
GK: Sam SLOCOMBE
RB: George BALDOCK
CB: Jake WRIGHT
CB: Johnny MULLINS
LB: Joe SKARZ
RM: Liam SERCOMBE
CM: Callum O'DOWDA
CM: Keemar ROOFE
LM: Alex MacDONALD
CF: Danny HYLTON
CF: Jordan BOWERY
Last Time: Portsmouth 0 Oxford United 0 (League Two - 28/02/2015)
Honours even in this very uneventful and instantly forgettable goalless draw.
If Doyle and Barton can do an effective job in keeping Roofe quiet then the Pompey players should be able to create enough chances to win the game. This will be tight but I fancy Cook's men to edge it.
Portsmouth 2 Oxford United 1