League Two will have a lot to live up to this season if United's opening day win at Fratton Park is anything to go by. In a game played in a magnificent atmosphere and in sweltering August sunshine United hit back from going a goal down in front of a record crowd in League 2 to tear Portsmouth apart. Two goals from Alfie Potter, a brace from Deane Smalley and a superb team performance gave United all three points and the perfect start to what promises to be a thrilling season.
As expected the game started at breakneck speed with nobody willing to let the other side settle and clearly defined 4-4-2 shapes for both teams. A Jed Wallace surge after 12 minutes was the only early danger to the new-look United back line of David Hunt, Johnny Mullins, Jake Wright and Tom Newey, while the midfield pair of Andy Whing and Danny Rose sat tight and soaked up any early pressure that Pompey tried to exert.
Patrick Agyemang headed a 20th-minute corner over the top for the home side but United came just as close on 22 when a Rose free kick was headed back by Dave Kitson at the far post and volleyed just wide of the left-hand post by Mullins, with Smalley throwing himself to try and turn the ball inside the post.
The game was opening up and on 24 it was Agyemang who gave Pompey the lead with a bullet header from ten yards out after a fine cross from the left by Andy Barcham. Ryan Clarke had no chance but the goal might have been prevented with some firmer challenges in midfield as the move was developing. That's nit-picking on a day like this though.
In such an atmosphere it would have been easy to crumble but United have a new resilience and maturity and came back strong. On 30 a fine move left Kitson to tee up Whing for a shot from the edge of the area which home keeper John Sullivan kept out at full stretch to his left, but with Kitson leading the line expertly to bring those around him into the game there were plenty of encouraging signs as United fought their way back into the game.
The equaliser on 34 was a gem as United went the length of the pitch to draw level. Potter was the creator, cruising past his man on half way and sprinting down the right wing like a man possessed. Pompey chased in vain and when Potter cut the ball back behind the retreating back line Smalley was smart in his movement and latched on to the ball to bury it past the helpless Sullivan with a ferocious low drive.
The second goal was just as easy on the eye. 38 minutes gone and it was the wing wizards who combined to give the U’s the lead. Sean Rigg on the left found a yard and again cut the ball back behind the Portsmouth back line, not learning from four minutes earlier. The whole ground held their breath as the cross arced towards Potter, arriving at speed. His finish was clinical, rasping past Sullivan once more and suddenly from 1-0 down United were 2-1 up.
The 2,500 travelling Yellow Army roared their delight and sang their hearts out in the sunshine as United pushed Guy Whittingham’s side back. Rigg and the magnificent Potter were in irresistible form out wide while Smalley and Kitson harried the home defence and gave their own team a sharp-looking focal point in attack.
Portsmouth were rattled and on 57 were down to ten men as captain Johnny Ertl saw red. Ertl hurtled into a challenge as Danny Rose rose and the Pompey skipper smashed Rose to the ground with his elbow. It was a clear red card and ref Mr Ward had no hesitation.
Forgetting the occasion for once, playing with ten men in this heat was far from easy for the last half hour and on 67 Potter just about ended the game with another fine strike. A mis-hit ball across the middle of the park found Smalley who roared forward towards the away fans. Potter initially flashed past him to the inside then checked back to his right to receive the pass on the right edge of the box. He cut inside, saw space open inside him and cracked a left-footed shot inside the right-hand post with Sullivan stranded.
Any doubts as to the outcome were ended on 71 as Smalley made it four to delirious scenes at that end of the ground. Pompey had bravely tried to leave men up front to try and get back into the game but that just left Potter with the freedom of Fratton to run into as United burst forward again. His cross was spot on and Smalley smashed the inviting ball past Sullivan to make it 4-1 and the perfect start for the yellows.
Mullins headed a Hunt cross against the post, Portsmouth had no answer, and it was all rather wonderful. Now, look, nobody get carried away right? It is one win. There are 45 more games and every type of weather condition, pitch, situation and opposition still to come. BUT what a win. Enjoy the day, enjoy the season, and whatever you do book your place at the Kassam Stadium next Saturday when United welcome Bury for the first home game of the season. Pack the stands, roar the team on, and be part of it.
Yellow Army. Recruitment still open.
Report by Chris Williams
Images by Darrell Fisher
Stats by PA Sports
See highlights and Video Reaction in Yellow Player