We couldn’t still make the play-offs, could we?
All it has taken is back-to-back wins to restore a glimmer of hope. Although it would likely require us to win all of our remaining games, and hope for Doncaster Rovers and Peterborough United’s results to go our way, there is hope. This upcoming trip to promotion-chasing Portsmouth is our toughest remaining game, win this, and we really can believe.
While the fixture list around Easter is notoriously congested, this game falling three days after the Good Friday victory over Bradford City only makes it as congested as a typical Saturday-Tuesday run of fixtures. There will undoubtedly be fitness concerns for Mark Robins to manage, but I wouldn’t anticipate a massively changed starting XI for this game.
Jordan Willis’ return to the bench on Friday suggests that he’s getting closer to full fitness and could be in line to a return to the starting line-up ahead of Tom Davies, who has done a solid job in Willis’ stead. After a difficult showing against Bradford City’s livewire winger Sean Scannell, if Sam McCallum isn’t dropped at left-back, that will say a lot about the impending future of the more senior Junior Brown.
Whether Mark Robins will be tempted into any further non-injury or form-based team selection decisions remains to be seen. After a quiet showing from Jordan Shipley against Bradford, Robins may well want to see whether Zain Westbrooke could offer something as Liam Kelly’s central midfield partner, however, with Shipley’s habit of stepping up for the big games, the case is stronger for sticking with the current midfield pairing.
Last Time We Met
Portsmouth held us at arm’s length when we took them on at the Ricoh Arena back in October. In a game of few chances, Portsmouth controlled the game without ever really moving past second gear such was their defensive composure and organisation. A spectacular strike from winger Ronan Curtis separated the two sides in terms of the scoreline, but in terms of control of the game, the two teams were miles apart.
Manager – Kenny Jackett
The former Wolves and Millwall manager has calmly turned Portsmouth into a winning machine at this level of football over the course of his near two-year reign at Fratton Park. The team is built from a solid defensive unit and, as we saw at the Ricoh Arena, rapid and clinical counter-attacking, Portsmouth have rarely been an exciting team to watch this season but have gone about their business in a calm and professional manner.
Having led the division for much of the campaign, Portsmouth endured a reasonably lengthy wobble over January after losing Millwall loanee Ben Thompson in central midfield to a recall back to his parent club and key central defender Jack Whatmough to a season-ending injury. Along with making a raft of January loan signings that unsettled the balance of the squad, Kenny Jackett has impressively brought things back together more recently to put Pompey back into promotion contention, winning the Checkatrade Trophy along the way.
Who To Look Out For?
There are two key elements to Portsmouth’s play this season – the solid defence and the pace and the skill of wingers Jamal Lowe and Ronan Curtis on the counter-attack. Lowe and Curtis epitomise Portsmouth’s revival under Kenny Jackett, not only are they incredibly skilful and decisive wide players who have had a hand in most of Portsmouth’s goals this season but they were both picked up relatively cheaply, from non-league and the Irish league respectively, before being moulded into highly effective League One players.
In defence, Matt Clarke is a class act who will easily adapt to Championship football next season – whether that’s with Portsmouth or another club. Not only a very strong and dominant central defender, Clarke’s ability to bring the ball out from the back makes him an all-round stand-out defender. In Nathan Thompson and Lee Brown at full-back, Portsmouth have two very reliable and experienced defenders for this division who are also adept at supporting attacks. In front of defence, Tom Naylor is a physical and calming presence in the centre of the park.
Due to the short turnaround between this game and Good Friday, I would anticipate that Kenny Jackett will mix things up in attack. With the experienced Brett Pitman having started during Portsmouth’s win over Burton Albion, he is likely to be placed on the bench in favour of Omar Bogle – a big and quick centre-forward who has scored some important goals since joining on loan from Birmingham City in January. That Portsmouth have yet to really utilise the talents of another proven League One goalscorer in James Vaughan since his January arrival underlines Portsmouth strength in depth in attack.
Areas To Exploit?
Although this is a game we need to win to ensure we remain in the hunt for the play-offs, there is more pressure on Portsmouth to win this game than ourselves, Mark Robins should be looking to exploit this. Where Portsmouth have struggled at times this season has been in breaking down determined defensive sides at home, although the ball-playing qualities of youngster Ben Close in midfield has aided matters, denying Portsmouth the openings to hit us on the counter-attack will make things difficult for them.
With the pace we have on the counter-attack, there are the elements in place for another classic away day under Mark Robins. It feels as though this game will rest heavily on which side can get the opening goal.