Pompey 1 Oxford United 4

Alfie Potter beats John Sullivan as Pompey suffer an opening-day defeat. Picture: Joe Pepler
Alfie Potter beats John Sullivan as Pompey suffer an opening-day defeat. Picture: Joe Pepler

Dave Kitson was flanked by two stewards as he made his return journey to the Oxford coach.

At one point he turned round and made a light-hearted comment about the size of one of those assigned to protect him.

There were sniggers, there were smiles, there was laughter.

Certainly in contrast to the character who made an 83rd-minute exit from the pitch spitting foul-mouth expletives at those situated in the South stand.

Then again, once the final whistle had sounded and the result was secured, the reality of the situation had sunk in.

Kitson was leaving Fratton Park with a win. An emphatic and humbling triumph at that.

Following his humiliating appearance for Sheffield United in his previous Fratton Park league game at the end of last season, no wonder he was sporting a grin.

For Pompey, Saturday was never meant to turn out in such a way.

The romance of football had been encapsulated by the fans rising to defeat the dastardly former owners and their cohorts.

Even before kick off, the Fratton end held up cards which spelt ‘Ours’ in a truly spine-tingling moment.

The sun was also in attendance to welcome the start of a League Two campaign so eagerly-anticipated and attended by 18,181 supporters.

The glorious setting was firmly in place for manager Guy Whittingham and his revamped team to mark the occasion with a handsome victory.

Written in the stars, decreed by the Gods, preordained fate.

And, of course, more public degradation for the ever-unpopular Kitson, whose every touch was greeted by cascading boos.

The much-maligned former Pompey striker had been hauled off at half-time for the Blades on his last visit in April.

And what an emotional afternoon that had proven to be, too, when Blues fans toasted community ownership secured the previous evening, escaping a further points deduction from the Football League – and a 3-0 triumph.

Saturday was expected to comfortably surpass that, however.

Not a chance.

Instead, Pompey fans witnessed an impressive opening first 30 minutes – and then defensive incompetence.

Alarming errors down both flanks and then, in the case of the fourth goal, a central defender missing a header.

Highly-concerning stuff from Whittingham’s first-choice back line in their first competitive outing together.

And it would have to occur just days after Ricardo Rocha bid goodbye to Pompey when no deal could be agreed for the Portuguese defender.

Admittedly, the dismissal of Johnny Ertl had a massive impact on proceedings, but don’t bother questioning it.

Whittingham and even the Pompey skipper’s own team-mates concluded it was the correct decision after studying video replays of the incident involving Danny Rose.

The overwhelming consensus was referee Gavin Ward was perfectly placed to witness an unintentional elbow, but an elbow nonetheless on.

Those who saw Rose leave the ground will undoubtedly testify the imprint Ertl left on his face.

It had all been going so well, too, up until the 34th minute.

Pompey had started strongly, very strongly, dominating possession and dictating play in the Oxford half.

Then in the 24th minute they had their reward with a superbly-worked goal down the left.

Ertl started it off by winning the ball in the centre of the pitch and feeding Andy Barcham.

The winger galloped down the flank and flighted in a pin-point cross, which Patrick Agyemang gobbled up with glee.

It was an inevitable powerful header from the front man which left the Oxford keeper helpless – and Pompey were up and running.

Whittingham’s men continued to attack, they maintained their dominance in possession of the ball. They were comfortable.

That was until the 34th minute when Alfie Potter glided past Dan Butler.

There was still plenty of ground to cover for the Oxford winger but he maintained his run before slipping the ball inside to Deane Smalley.

The striker did the rest, taking a touch and firing in a superb finish from the angle.

The move had emanated from Butler’s failure to deal with Potter – and there was more to come.

In the opposite full-back position, four minutes later Yassin Moutaouakil dithered and dallied over dealing with a bouncing ball on the right touchline.

His preference for attempting to control it rather than kicking into touch saw him dispossessed by Smalley.

In turn, the U’s launched an attack, with Sean Rigg eventually crossing and Potter coming in from the right flank to hit a smart first-time finish.

Both the crowd and Pompey’s players were shell-shocked as they headed in 2-1 down at the break.

The situation worsened in the 58th minute with the dismissal of Ertl – a red card which carries an automatic three-match ban.

Keen to retain an attacking impetus to get back into the game, Whittingham brought off Butler and introduced substitute Ricky Holmes.

He also elected to operate with three defenders.

Within six minutes, though, Potter had grabbed his second and it was effectively game over.

The former Hawks loanee came in off the right flank before drilling a left-foot shot inside the near post.

On 71 minutes it was 4-1, the inspirational Potter once again involved.

His cross from the right appeared to be covered by Joe Devera, only for the Pompey defender to miss an attempted stooping header.

The ball found its way through to Smalley, who was there ahead of Moutaouakil to produce another excellent finish.

There was still time for Johnny Mullins to hit the outside of the far post with a header from David Hunt’s free-kick as the visitors turned the screw.

Still, Sonny Bradley did provide some cheer for Blues followers with an uncomfortable challenge on Kitson which earned him a yellow.

Kitson himself was later booked for what appeared to be dissent towards the Surrey-based referee.

Then came his substitution, met with customary boos and catcalls from the home fans towards their former player.

As he made his way towards the dug-out, something snapped as he launched into a tirade at those in the South stand.

Barely an hour later he left Fratton Park laughing and joking, the epitome of good humour.

After all, he had plenty to smile about.

Of course, Pompey fans still have good cause to be optimistic and cheerful about the season ahead.

It is just one defeat in a rebuilding campaign in which promotion is not the essential target.

As for Kitson, well there will be other games to wipe that smile away.