United and Portsmouth battled to a 0-0 draw this afternoon at the Kassam Stadium. The U's first game of 2014 ended in stalemate despite a fine atmosphere and a game full of hard work and endeavour from both sides.
New signing Nicky Wroe slotted in on the right of a three-man midfield anchored by Johnny Mullins, whose switch from central defence allowed Michael Raynes to return to the side. With Sean Rigg and Ryan Williams playing up front with Deane Smalley it was a very mobile front three and there was plenty of short, sharp passing as United dominated the early possession.
Portsmouth, backed by their usual army of supporters, had a couple of tame shots from distance in the first few minutes and similarly restricted the U's to efforts from Rigg and Williams from the edge of the box in the first 20 minutes, which meant that the game was cagey stuff. The closest we came to a goal in the first half was on 32 when the excellent Tom Newey met a Danny Rose corner from the left but glanced the ball just over the bar, although fellow full back David Hunt whipped a free kick fairly close two minutes later as United probed for an opening.
One challenge from Wroe on 36 minutes where he won a ball he was 40/60 to reach allowed United to keep the pressure on and triggered three corners in quick succession but United could find no way through in the fist half, despite stats showing that they had had 60 per cent of the play.
Portsmouth had looked to contain in the first half but it took a brilliant header from Newey at the far post to keep them out in the opening exchanges of the second period. A couple of early yellow cards added spice as the game opened up; Constable came on for Smalley to try and find that elusive goal and with both sets of fans raising the volume the game became ever more intense.
The workaholic Rose span cleverly past a defender on 65 minutes but blasted his shot beyond the far post from a tight angle, Mullins fired wide on 70, Hunt volleyed a foot wide on 74 and the game continued to be played in the Portsmouth half but without a clear chance falling United's way. Portsmouth remained dangerous on the break but it was United pressing as Williams lashed another effort over the top from 20 yards on 78 and Constable headed wide from the edge of the box a minute later.
That may read like a catalogue of near misses but in truth the Portsmouth defence had tightened up considerably since the opening day of the season when United put four past them, and they might have taken all three points on 81 as Joe Devera somehow got himself into a shape that neither allowed him to head or kick the ball into an open net at the far post after a wicked cross from the left.
That would have been harsh on The Yellows who had pressed for much of the game. They remain in a promising position in the play-offs and with Wroe looking neat and tidy on his debut, the craft of Dave Kitson (suspended this afternoon) to come back into the side and influential players such as Andy Whing and Alfie Potter to come back there is still a long way to go.
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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