Oxford United 1 Pompey 1

Adam McGurk lets fly with his effort from 35 yards which earned Pompey at point at Oxford Picture: Joe Pepler
Adam McGurk lets fly with his effort from 35 yards which earned Pompey at point at Oxford Picture: Joe Pepler

At Molineux, a 21-year-old watched from the substitutes’ bench as a goalless draw unfolded against Brighton.

Jed Wallace etched his name into Pompey affection as a player capable of conjuring up a decisive moment of magic.

During his Fratton Park first-team tenure it was an exclusive club, members numbering the one.

He was the secretary, the chairman, the treasurer, newcomers welcome yet all pretenders failed to avoid a blackballing during days sparse on alternative talent.

Yesterday, Adam McGurk added himself to a roster which is encouragingly lengthening by the match under the new regime.

The over-reliance on Wallace to transform the destiny of a footballing occasion was never addressed by a number of Pompey managers.

Paul Cook may these days not possess the former Academy product among his Blues armoury, yet finds himself blessed with genuine alternatives.

Players capable of contributing a fleeting moment of quality to overhaul a match and wrestle it into Pompey’s favour.

In terms of league football this season, against Dagenham & Redbridge it was Kyle Bennett, Morecambe was Gary Roberts, then Conor Chaplin passed the audition so emphatically versus Barnet.

At the Kassam Stadium it was McGurk’s opportunity to audition. He responded to the challenge with a breathtaking early contender for goal of the season.

The Ulsterman had already netted twice for Cook’s side since his summer arrival from Burton Albion on a free transfer during a promising start in his new surroundings.

However, yesterday he clambered up several levels to demonstrate a true artisan touch which earned a point from absolutely nowhere.

Make no mistake, up until that point a poor Blues display was careering towards a maiden League Two defeat of the campaign.

Liam Sercombe, as ever the lower-division tormenter having switched allegiances from Exeter during the summer, had netted a 33rd minute opener.

It arrived when Danny Rose’s left-wing corner failed to be cleared, the midfielder popping up on the edge of the area to crash a right-footed half-volley past Paul Jones.

Jones had been recalled following a recurrence of Brian Murphy’s groin problem, marking his first league start of a campaign which has seen him lose his spot.

Had it not been for last season’s ever-present, Pompey’s fate could have been decreed before the half-time whistle as the keeper made two top-drawer saves.

The opening half would see the visitors fade after a solid opening 15 minutes, their game punctured by errant passing, sloppy play and Oxford United slowly rising to their feet.

Chaplin’s early exit courtesy of a shin injury compounded a period during which too many of his team-mates were found wanting.

After the interval there was an early improvement, no question of that, yet Sam Slocombe remained unchallenged in goal, the car park behind him also spared of low-flying footballs.

Hope fading, the hosts comfortable, debate among the 2,459 away followers turned to focusing on time for a formation switch.

They had already endured ironic cheers from other members of the crowd when a corner resulted in Gareth Evans passing the ball straight out of play while attempting to knock it short to Matt Tubbs.

Then on 61 minutes McGurk intervened in spectacular style.

The fact it was Pompey’s first and only shot on target during 90 minutes and four added on perhaps best illustrates the importance of his contribution.

There appeared no danger when Adam Barton, on at half-time for the below-par Nigel Atangana, slipped a pass inside to the forward.

McGurk proceeded to take one touch to steer the ball into his path and then unleashed a left-foot shot from 35-yards which left Slocombe grasping the air.

A magnificent strike, a sublime piece of class and the grappling of a point off Michael Appleton’s side who have every reason to feel distraught that a victory ultimately escaped them.

Enjoying his second consecutive appearance, McGurk had provided a spark amid a flat Pompey display urgently requiring livening up.

In turn it shattered Oxford as the Blues, prompted by Barton on his league debut for the club, began to dictate and probe with ease.

Suddenly the visitors were retaining possession, they were in firm control of the occasion, while Oxford’s followers had become edgy and frustrated.

The game had switched allegiances as Cook’s team gradually began to dominate. An apparent defeat had transformed into a potential victory.

Then came the final twist on 81 minutes as Michael Doyle received his marching orders.

The U’s broke down their right through the outstanding Sercombe, with the pacy Bennett giving chase.

The winger, however, failed to get in a testing challenge and the covering Doyle would instead clatter into the Oxford man for a second yellow card.

Possessing the numerical advantage, Appleton’s men were handed the ball back and allowed the prized opportunity to seek out victory, yet never truly came close.

With the defence marshalled by the outstanding Christian Burgess and again assisted by the fight of Ben Davies, the visitors stood firm to claim their point.

Even Tubbs, asked to drop into a left-sided midfield role following Doyle’s departure, was crashing clearances out of the penalty area in the battle to keep Oxford at bay.

As it was, Pompey secured a 1-1 draw to make it eight league matches undefeated and 10 overall glancing back to Gary Waddock’s caretaker tenure at the end of last term.

In addition, it means in tough away trips to Plymouth, Luton and Oxford in the league, the Blues have dropped just two points, an outcome once thought improbable considering previous travelling form.

Meanwhile, they are in second spot and one point off the League Two summit, following draws also for Leyton Orient and Plymouth.

A fine day then for Cook and this side equipped with so much expectation of winning promotion from the Football League’s bottom division.

All instigated by a moment of footballing genius from a player who picked up a winner’s medal last term.

The king is dead, he has moved to Wolverhampton. Long live the kings.