You just can’t draw any definitive conclusions from an opening day fixture. Not only were we at least three first-choice signings short of where we are likely to be in September, but Saturday was just one game. To say that this is definitely going to be a difficult season based off one game is ridiculously reactionary.
Although it seems like it was far from a great performance, we had three shots on target versus Swindon’s one, it’s a game we could have won. You can’t tell at this point whether that inability to convert chances is going to plague us this entire season, just as much as you can’t fully say that we were unlucky not to win on Saturday. We can only wait to see what trends emerge over the coming weeks and months of football.
Onto everyone’s favourite fixture of the new season, the First Round of the League Cup. You wait all year for it and now it’s finally come around. The chance to see two weakened and half-arsed teams battling out in a competition they both know they have no chance of winning. What’s not to love?
Aside from the likely arrival of Lewis Page on loan from West Ham in time for this game, the midfield and defence pretty much pick themselves. A question mark over the fitness of Sam Ricketts could see Page make his debut in the back three, rather than at left wing-back where you imagine he’s been signed to play. Unless Tony Mowbray wants to give a chance to someone untested at senior level in Ben Stevenson or Darragh Leahy, the only selection dilemma comes in those front three positions
I would imagine that Marcus Tudgay is nailed-on to start as the focal point in attack, it’s a question of which two out of George Thomas, Kwame Thomas, Ruben Lameiras, Kyel Reid, Jodi Jones or Kyle Spence does Mowbray want to give the opportunity to play themselves into the new season. There are convincing arguments for starting any of those six players, I’ve got no real idea of how Tony Mowbray will be thinking about them.
Last Time We Met
It was March 2013 the last time we played Portsmouth, we had just gone into administration while Portsmouth were close to being taken over by their fans. A lachrymose Sky Blues side were easily bested by a Portsmouth side that had long given up hope of surviving at League One level that season. Both clubs have had to endure some tough times since that last playing each other, Portsmouth not only won the match that day though but won the battle for their clubs’ future while we limp on hoping some day for salvation from the mess we’re in.
How Are They Doing?
A 1-1 draw at home to Carlisle on the opening day summed up Portsmouth under the management of former Sky Blues defender Paul Cook. The home side dominated the contest, mustering nearly 30 shots to Carlisle’s 2 but failed to come away with all three points. Despite Paul Cook making some marked improvements at Portsmouth over the past year or so, they still struggle to break League Two sides down on their big day out at Fratton Park.
Which should make them tough opposition, potentially the favourites, for this match where they should have more space to thrive on. That being said, Paul Cook has stated that he intends to rest almost all of the side that played last Saturday so it’s hard to tell what kind of Portsmouth side we’ll be up against and what their motivation will be.
The intrigue of coming up against former players such as Carl Baker, Michael Doyle and Adam Barton then is watered down by the likelihood that at least the former two could be rested. It’s possible then that we could up against an Adam Barton playing in central defence, which will be interesting, but given that we failed to trouble Conor Thomas playing in central defence on Saturday, it may not be quite the field-day that you would be hoping for.
Trying to pick out the Portsmouth back-up brigade that may be deployed in this fixture, winger Kyle Bennett and striker Conor Chaplin seem the most dangerous players who weren’t started on the opening day. Bennett is a winger with absolutely frightening pace, and no shortage of skill, who has done well at League One level and is only playing in the league below because of the wages Portsmouth can offer. Chaplin is an academy product and an energetic striker who has never quite won over manager Paul Cook despite finishing as the club’s joint top-scorer last season.
Portsmouth’s defence is the main area of weakness, but only because they’re so used to dominating games at League Two level that the focus is on pinning teams back rather than defending itself. Portsmouth’s full-backs are likely to be asked to bomb forward to support attacks, which will leave a central defence likely to include Adam Barton rather exposed.
With both managers likely to name weakened teams for this game, it’s a tough one to predict. Although we’re nominally the higher-placed team in this encounter, it would be one of those cup upsets that isn’t that much of an upset. Last season in the League Cup, a weakened Portsmouth side defeated Derby County quite convincingly, this isn’t an average League Two side we’re up against.
With the increasing negativity around the club at this moment, a win would be welcome, but not as much as three points against Shrewsbury on Saturday would be. Because Portsmouth are likely to name an entirely different starting XI to the one they played at the weekend, I think we should be able to win what is a tricky cup tie. My prediction is 2-1 for the Sky Blues.