Oxford 0 Pompey 0

Joe Devera misses a chance at the back post Picture: Joe Pepler
Joe Devera misses a chance at the back post Picture: Joe Pepler

Police mounted on horseback negotiated the vehicles in the sizeable car park outside the Kassam Stadium.

Then there were the swarms of officers, too numerous to count, occasionally equipped with batons and riot shields.

A real guard of honour afforded to the 2,365 Pompey fans congregated inside Oxford’s North Stand.

Yet had such cavalry been called upon to assist on the actual field of play, the U’s would still never have broken down the Pompey defences.

There was a time when the creaking Blues back line would splinter upon every corner and shatter at every ball pumped over the top.

The brittle rearguard with its alarming failure to rectify pathetic shortcomings is ultimately responsible for the ever-precarious league position Pompey finds themselves.

Once it was the worst in League Two – or the poorest in the Football League in Richie Barker’s mind, considering it is operating in the bottom division in the first place.

Well, no more. Thankfully. Finally. At last.

Oxford signalled a third clean sheet in four for the Blues – an improbable return considering the previous brittle defensive displays.

What’s more, the comfortable and well-marshalled visitors never even looked like being breached at the home of the promotion-chasers.

Barker has masterminded as many shut outs in his six games in charge as it took predecessor Guy Whittingham to record in his 16 league fixtures at the helm this season.

Granted, goals scored at the other end are an obvious issue, with two so far over the same period for the new boss.

It’s a situation he has sought to rectify with the recruitment of both Jake Jervis and Ryan Taylor in the days leading up to the trip to Oxford.

Nonetheless, the backbone has been established, a solidity Whittingham never managed to create through his endeavours on the training ground or at the tactics table.

Caretaker boss Andy Awford started the process, securing a goalless draw at Hartlepool in his second match in charge – coincidentally, the last time Pompey yielded a point on their travels.

Now Barker has moved several steps further to create that crucial platform which is going to be required to start climbing the table.

No longer do the Blues require netting two goals every match just to grab a point after giving their opposition head starts in the majority of matches.

With it, the former Crawley boss has transformed the Pompey career of Joe Devera, dragged back the Sonny Bradley of old, and restored Marcos Painter to a regular first-team spot.

The latter was a left-back infuriatingly hampered by injury rather than performances, who in the latter stages of life under Whittingham, didn’t even make some squads.

On Saturday he produced his finest Blues showing to date and emphatically proved once more that, the York debacle aside, the better defensive displays this season have come during his presence in the starting XI.

With Painter’s contract up next week, Nicky Shorey now on the scene to provide left-back competition and Barker requiring to ship out players either on loan or for good, it remains to be seen what his fate is.

If the Kassam Stadium served as a farewell, it was unquestionably an eye-catching one from the 27-year-old, who was defensively outstanding and also demonstrated his ability to attack effectively.

Including Trevor Carson, Barker now has four of his five rearguard slots stabilised, and with it the clean sheets have started to roll in, gathering five points from four games in the process.

Of course, offensively is now the issue. At Oxford, the visitors didn’t even manage a shot on target during the entire 90 minutes.

Despite reverting to a 4-4-2 and matching debutant Taylor in attack alongside Patrick Agyemang, the creativity and attacking threat offered was noticeably low in quality throughout.

In the fourth minute, Agyemang collected a ball with his back to goal, cleverly spun and fired a shot just wide of the post. It was the closest the Blues would come to scoring all game.

Then there was Devera, the unlikely figure who popped up at the far post as Jed Wallace flighted over a delicious free-kick from the left.

All it required was a touch to enter the net. Instead, the defender failed to make connection with the ball whatsoever and it bounced over him for a goal-kick.

Arguably, the best goal-scoring opportunity for either side during a match in which chances were rationed.

But Devera, sadly, couldn’t make it count and the goalless draw was secured.

At the other end, Danny Rose flashed an angled shot across the face of goal from close-in, while Tom Newey headed a dangerous first-half corner over the bar.

And that was it, the sum attacking threats from two sides in a fixture neither truly deserved to emerge victorious.

Obviously, it was the travelling Pompey who were more satisfied with the point, the clean sheet and the performance of a number of their players.

How encouraging it was to see Simon Ferry back in the side following his latest hamstring-inflicted spell on the sidelines. His energy will always be missed.

Immediately restored to the captaincy, he operated in an unfamiliar role on the right for large parts, although it was more central than being wide.

Shorey was granted his debut, surprisingly in the heart of midfielder. Yet his calmness on the ball and composure in situations was there for all to see and caught the eye.

Daniel Alfei came in at right-back – the new addition to the flourishing defensive line-up who looked very assured. Although there was a flash point late on when he slid in on Jake Wright.

Oxford appealed for a red card and surrounded referee Mark Heywood in similar fashion to the opening day of the season when Johnny Ertl was dismissed.

Thankfully, on this occasion, the Welsh youngster was given a yellow card – one of five cautions the Blues attracted on the day.

Finally, Taylor was debutant number three, providing a hard-working performance up front with a willingness to drop back, before he was substituted in stoppage time through cramp.

A point it was then and another clean sheet to point that steady progress is being made. And from Pompey’s current league standing, progress is essential for survival.