Clarke the U’s hero watched
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