By James

Clarke the U’s hero watched

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE TWO - By Alex Crook

OX­FORD boss Michael Ap­ple­ton hailed goal­keeper Ryan Clarke for help­ing his side earn a pre­cious point on his re­turn to Frat­ton Park.

With for­mer Eng­land num­ber one David James watch­ing from the stands, Clarke pro­duced two su­perb first-half saves to deny Pom­pey a fourth suc­ces­sive win.

It took only 16 min­utes for Clarke to take cen­tre stage, ac­ro­bat­i­cally turn­ing Jed Wal­lace’s pow­er­ful shot from the edge of the penalty area be­hind for a cor­ner.

Clarke re­peated those hero­ics three min­utes be­fore half-time, push­ing Matt Tubbs’ bul­let header from a Wal­lace cen­tre over the cross­bar as Ox­ford inched closer to Foot­ball League sur­vival.

Ap­ple­ton, who spent an ill-fated stint in charge on the south coast dur­ing the 2011/2012 sea­son, said: “Ryan did man­fully on two oc­ca­sions.

“I would have been dis­ap­pointed to con­cede a header from the edge of the penalty area but it was a fan­tas­tic save. Lit­tle things like that give ev­ery­one a lift.

“Portsmouth played with a lot of con­fi­dence and it is al­ways go­ing to be a dif­fi­cult open­ing to the game as I ex­pected them to start quickly.

“You have to stay strong and do the ba­sics and we did that.With a bit more qual­ity in the fi­nal third we could even have won it.

“I said two games ago we had a 15-game sea­son and that we have to get our­selves in a po­si­tion where we are in this di­vi­sion next year.

“I trust the group of play­ers I have got. I trusted them to see the game out.”

Pom­pey – who pa­raded 2008 FA Cup win­ning he­roes James and Her­mann Hrei­dars­son on the pitch at half-time – are now seven games un­beaten.

De­fender Paul Robin­son should have turned one point into three when he put a free header from Dan But­ler’s teas­ing free­kick over the bar.

Ox­ford came to de­fend and Danny Hyl­ton’s spec­u­la­tive 30yard shot in the fourth minute, eas­ily saved by Paul Jones, was as close as they came to scor­ing.

Home manager Andy Aw­ford put a pos­i­tive spin on the re­sult but, in truth, his side do not have enough qual­ity to make up the nine-point gap to the play-off places.

Aw­ford said:“The longer we stay un­beaten we will climb the ta­ble.

“Ox­ford played well and made it hard for us. We had a lot of the ball and are dis­ap­pointed we did not score.

“We looked rock solid as a unit and every­body put a shift in.

“We had a cou­ple of chances but did not quite man­age to open them up enough, but you are not go­ing to win ev­ery game so any point is a good point.”

STAR MAN RYAN CLARK

E Ox­ford

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