A young Oxford United Under 23's squad were narrowly beaten 2-1 by Portsmouth last night in their final game before starting their Premier League Cup campaign next week.
Watched by U's owner Sumrith Thanakarnjanasuth, who had made the journey down to support the young Yellows, the game was another chance to impress for players looking to force their way into Karl Robinson's first team squad. Chris Allen's squad included six players from the U's under 18's side, who currently sit top of their league, with 16-year old centre back Nico Jones, a summer addition from Fulham, receiving his first call up the the Development squad.
Watched by Portsmouth manager Kenny Jackett and in front of a crowd of nearly 500, the home side made the better of the early running without creating any clear-cut chances.
Oxford born Kyran Lofthouse, playing his second consecutive game at right back, continued to quietly enhance his reputation with a performance of real maturity that belied the fact that he has just turned 18 whilst the Oxford front two of Harvey Bradbury and Dejon Noel-Williams posed a physical threat for the experienced Portsmouth back line.
Oxford's first real chance came midway through the first half when Owen James bent a left-footed free kick just over the bar from 25 yards but it was the home side that opened the scoring on 36 minutes when first team player Louis Dennis's shot from twenty yards beat Jack Stevens in the Oxford goal. Stevens, who has made a series of impressive performances in recent weeks, will be disappointed not to have made the save but bounced back from his error to make a couple of decent stops as the half drew to a close.
16-year old centre forward Slavi Spasov replaced Bradbury at half time and showed once again why he has a bright future at the club causing problems for the Portsmouth centre backs from the outset.
Aaron Heap, another local lad, captaining the side in midfield, was having an increasing influence on the game and Oxford soon carved out their first opportunity of the second period when a well-crafted cross from Albie Hopkins was met three yards out by Dejon Noel-Williams who should have done better with his header having beaten his marker to the ball. Noel-Williams made amends five minutes later however when he rolled his man well before getting on the end of another ball in from the left to slide the ball past the Portsmouth goalkeeper for the equaliser.
With the game heading for a draw, Portsmouth striker Joe Mason, who has played a number of games for the first team, cut in from the flank and was bought down by a ill-timed tackle from Steven Johnson to concede the penalty. Mason stepped up himself to score and secure a 2-1 win for the home side in what had been a closely matched and competitive run out.
Whilst disappointed to lose the game, the young u23s side will have learnt a lot from playing against an experienced Portsmouth side and now turn their attention to an attractive looking game next Thursday night against Swansea City at Thame United's ASM Stadium as they open up their Premier League Cup group fixtures.
Stevens, Lofthouse, Johnson-Fikula, Berry-Hargreaves, Taylor; Heap (c), Hopkins; R.James, Noel-Williams, O.James; Bradbury (Spasov 46)
Subs not used: Agboola, Jones, McCreadie
A number of fans have been asking when they will be able to see Chris Allen’s exciting young team in action and we are delighted to say that after the recent win over Southend United in the qualifiers there will be three competitive Under 23 cup games against Swansea, Hull and Wolves over the coming months
The first of these is against Swansea on Thursday 4th October at 7pm, to be played at the ASM Stadium, the home of Thame United - please note the change of kick-off from the previously advertised game.
Admission is free.
We will have full details of the other two home games as soon as they are finalised.