THE MONEY FOR OXFORD
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
STAR MAN KYLE BENNE