The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE TWO - By Ge­orge Thorpe

MICHAEL Ap­ple­ton rev­elled in his tri­umphant re­turn to Frat­ton Park as Ox­ford beat Portsmouth.

The League Two clash be­tween two teams bat­tling for au­to­matic pro­mo­tion was set­tled by Jor­dan Bow­ery, signed for free from Rother­ham United on Fri­day, who fired home a fine strike.

Ap­ple­ton spent 12 months in the Pom­pey dugout be­fore leav­ing in Novem­ber 2012 and next week faces an­other for­mer em­ployer, Black­burn Rovers, in the FA Cup fourth round.

Af­ter the match, the 40-year-old said he had looked for­ward more to com­ing back to Frat­ton Park than he is fac­ing Rovers in the cup.

“The re­sult is ab­so­lutely right up there,” Ap­ple­ton said.

“The de­feat last week [at Bris­tol Rovers] was frus­trat­ing as we were so good on the day and to walk away with noth­ing was an­noy­ing.

“Now we have to just stick to what we do and the rest will take care of it­self.

“We have a good chance to make the last 16 of the cup next week.

“I was only at Black­burn for two months and com­ing back to Portsmouth was fan­tas­tic.

“Re­gard­less of what hap­pened, the year I had here was great, but com­ing back here and get­ting a re­sult was more sen­ti­men­tal to me than play­ing Black­burn next week.”

Ke­mar Roofe be­gan the af­ter­noon with six goals in the last four games for United and the 23-year-old should have made it seven in the eighth minute, but sent a header from an Alex MacDon­ald cor­ner over.

In the 19th minute, Pom­pey’s Gareth Evans and Marc McNulty linked up clev­erly in the box for the lat­ter to get a shot away, which Jake Wright had to clear off the line.

Kyle Ben­nett, in­flu­en­tial through­out and un­lucky to be on the los­ing side, saw a 20-yard free-kick shave the cross­bar.

The home side were in con­trol, but United were solid in de­fence and looked good on the counter. Start­ing in goal for Portsmouth was loan sign­ing Ryan Ful­ton, brought in from Liverpool 24 hours early.

In the first half he seemed con­fi­dent, but just five min­utes af­ter the break, it looked as if he had handed United a gilt-edged chance to take the lead as he up­ended Danny Hyl­ton in the box.

Ref­eree Neil Swar­brick awarded a penalty, but the 19-year-old made amends sav­ing Ser­combe’s spot kick be­fore bril­liantly deny­ing Hyl­ton on the re­bound.

Not only did this lift the crowd around Frat­ton Park, it also ap­peared to gee up his Pom­pey team-mates, who started to look more cre­ative in their op­po­nents’ half, but could not test Sam Slo­combe in Ox­ford’s goal.

They paid for this with 14 min­utes re­main­ing as debu­tant Bow­ery ex­cel­lently struck a half vol­ley from the edge of the area af­ter a long di­ag­o­nal ball from Wright.

Pom­pey went for­ward search­ing for an equaliser, but sub­sti­tute Adam McGurk could not fin­ish off a pair of de­cent chances late on, con­demn­ing his side to a fourth league de­feat. Pom­pey man­ager Paul Cook ad­mit­ted the best side won.

Cook said: “We couldn’t get near them at the start and they are the best team to come to Frat­ton Park this sea­son.

“But there are 19 games to go and we have to show the bouncebackability that we have.

“We were the se­cond best team on the pitch, truth be known, and I thought Ox­ford were ex­cel­lent and we looked weak.

“We didn’t look as good as we have done lately, but I thought Ox­ford were ex­cel­lent and de­served to get some­thing out of the game.”

DE­NIED: Ox­ford’s Liam Ser­combe sees his se­cond-half penalty saved by Portsmouth keeper Ryan Ful­ton


TT Portsm


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