Pompey and January are not a good mix. I am struggling to remember the last time the Blues started the year in a positive manner. The annual Charlton Athletic victory at Fratton Park on Monday poured further salt into the wounds of a relatively quiet, and pretty depressing deadline day.
Sadly, the visit of the Addicks was an all too familiar tale of recent Charlton success on the south coast and the harsh reality of Pompey’s floundering season; half-decent start to the match – concede – feel sorry for ourselves – serve up an aimless attempt at getting back into the game – defeat.
This weekend’s trip to free-scoring Oxford looks far from ideal. The U’s stuck seven past Gillingham on Saturday and picked up an impressive point at the DW Stadium on Tuesday night. Karl Robinson’s men occupy the hotly contested final playoff berth at present, with the likes of Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesday breathing down their necks.
Oxford have won two, drawn two, and lost two of their previous six League One fixtures. Despite their slightly indifferent form, the victory over Sheffield Wednesday, demolition of Gillingham, and point and Wigan demonstrate that they are an excellent League One side.
United currently lie twelve points ahead of Danny Cowley’s side, albeit having played a couple of matches more than Pompey. If you want to be irrationally optimistic, if Pompey beat the U’s and capitalise on their games in hand, they could only be three points behind the current 6th place incumbents.
Oxford have been a familiar foe for Pompey over recent years, with the two sides meeting in the 19/20 season playoff semi-final. Karl Robinson’s men are always part of the promotion conversation yet have never managed to have their Championship ambitions ever heard louder enough.
Karl Robinson’s side are known for being an attacking, free-flowing team. This has resulted in Oxford amassing 51 goals so far this season; depressingly, 21 goals more than Pompey. Oxford, statistically, have a distinct, progressive, and attacking style. They are not the relentless possession-orientated side that MK Dons are, yet they’re not the direct aerial bombardment that Rotherham execute so brilliantly.
It’s fair to say Oxford like to pass the ball, but not for the sake of passing it; there is a purpose to their build-up play. The U’s have a high number of through passes and key passes to the final third. They rank league-high for progressive passing and progressive runs. They look to build through the thirds and not waste their time doing so. Furthermore, they average the fourth-highest amount of passes before the opposition manages to regain possession – which means they aren’t half bad at knocking the ball about.
In many ways, analysing Oxford is much like looking at a better, well-drilled, and more efficient version of Pompey; a progressive, fast-moving, and eye-catching team that Danny Cowley may be looking to emulate.
Oxford have former Blues, Simon Eastwood and Ryan Williams amongst their ranks as well as impressive left-back Steve Seddon. Seddon was a popular figure during his time at Fratton Park and has thrived at the Kassam Stadium after leaving Birmingham on a permanent deal.
Seddon has two goals and four assists, in what has been a productive first half of the season. His tussle with Marlon Romeo on Saturday will be an intriguing matchup, with both looking to get forward as much as possible. Romeo cannot give Seddon the chance to put consistent good deliveries into the box; as we have seen before, Seddon’s crossing ability is one of his key attributes, and with enough chances to cross he will eventually find the feet of Matty Taylor lurking in the six-yard box.
Taylor has yet again been at his potent best this season with 14 goals thus far. The former Bristol City man has the second-highest expected goals in the League; his predatory instincts have caused Pompey many problems in the past. Finally, midfielder Cameron Brannagan has been in mercurial form of late, with four goals and an assist in his last two matches. The U’s turned down several bids from Blackpool on deadline day for the midfielders’ services.
Saturday’s fixture will test Pompey’s defensive resolve. Which, overall, they have excelled this season. When asked to defend for long periods, Pompey are generally solid; the 13 League clean sheets proves that Cowley’s men have a good level of defensive coherence. If Pompey can eliminate the mistakes that are occurring at the back and press Oxford at the correct moments then there is every chance they can hurt the home side.
Photo: Ryan Stillwell