Memory of opener will fire up Pompey

Deane Smalley, centre, celebrates the first of his two goals in Oxford's 4-1 win on the opening day of the season

Deane Smalley, centre, celebrates the first of his two goals in Oxford's 4-1 win on the opening day of the season

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IT WAS supposed to be the first step in a bright, new era.

Instead the clash with Oxford on the opening day turned into a horror show in front of the biggest crowd League Two, in it’s current guise, had witnessed.

Pompey fell to a hugely-disappointing 4-1 loss back in August, as they began their first full season as the biggest fan-owned club in the United Kingdom.

It was to set the tone for a stuttering start to the campaign which failed to hit the anticipated heights.

Richie Barker was still four months away from becoming Pompey manager back then.

But he is well aware of the pain of that loss – and will be using that as motivation for his men as they go to the Kassam Stadium tomorrow.

Barker said: ‘A game away at a team at the top of the division is tough.

‘They had a fantastic result here on the first day of the season.

‘Everyone is aware of that game here. I wasn’t here and I’m aware of it. We’ll be looking to put that game right.’

Oxford go into tomorrow’s game off the back of two defeats on the bounce on their own patch.

That is a world away from their imperious away league form which ranks as the best in the top eight divisions of English football.

The U’s have not lost on the road in league action since a defeat at Aldershot on April 1.

But Barker has no doubt his men will be getting a harder game as they go up the A34 than they would at home.

When asked about Oxford’s difference in away and home records, he said: ‘I don’t read into that a great deal.

‘They may have played the stronger teams at home.

‘They played Scunthorpe at home recently and they are top.

‘I don’t think going there is going to be any easier than playing them here. Well, it won’t be. It will be harder.’

Barker will tomorrow face a manager he went up against in the race to become Pompey manager.

Chris Wilder was also interviewed for the job and was one of the fancied candidates for the position.

The Oxford boss is someone Barker knows all about.

He said: ‘I couldn’t not know it was going on (when both men were going for the Pompey job). It was everywhere!

‘I’ve known Chris a long time. We are both from Sheffield.

‘The most successful clubs give their managers two or three years and Oxford have done that with Chris.’

Pompey go to Oxford on the back of a weekend without a game and a defeat at Southend on New Year’s Day.

But staff and fans alike have taken heart from slowly improving displays.

Barker said: ‘We would have been a lot more buoyed by Southend if it had finished 90 seconds earlier. But, in terms of performance, there were less negatives than three weeks earlier at Bristol Rovers.

‘Have we solved it? No. Have we turned the corner? No. Have we started? Maybe.

‘If people are seeing an improvement we must be going in the right direction.

‘It couldn’t have got any worse than Bristol Rovers. Well, let’s hope so!

‘I’m not getting carried away just yet.’