Unbeaten in our first four matches across league and cup, winning three of those and conceded just one goal, maintaining that record after this away trip to Portsmouth would make this officially a ‘good start’.
We haven’t faced the toughest of opposition thus far, but there have been signs of where things could go wrong at the back, while our attacking play has lacked fluency and control. It will be intriguing to see how we match up against one of the strongest teams this level, whether those attacking and defensive concerns are nit-picking or signs of what may come to define our season.
The main area of intrigue over the starting line-up for this game is whether Mark Robins sticks with the system and players that have gotten the job done thus far, or makes specific tweaks in mind of the opposition that we’re up against.
This may well be a game where Amadou Bakayoko’s pace and willingness to chase down lost causes carries a greater benefit over the clearer penalty area presence that Matty Godden offers. As we play just with a lone frontman, the concern is that Godden might be easier to mark out of a game where we take a more defensive focus and provide less support from midfield.
Elsewhere, taking Zain Westbrooke out of the side may be tempting due to a lack of assertiveness in his recent performances. While Westbrooke’s set-piece delivery is valuable, if we are looking to be quicker in possession in this game, my concern is that he may slow things down. Just who would come in for him is a quandary, although it may be an idea to bring Gervane Kastaneer into the side to play just off the centre-forward and with a more disciplined central midfield duo of Liam Kelly and Jordan Shipley shielding the defence.
With all that said, it seems unlikely to me that Mark Robins will change a winning side but may look to change the emphasis to a quicker, more counter-attacking approach.
Last Time We Met
We were into the dying embers of our play-off bid last season as we took on Portsmouth on Easter Monday. Those embers looked to be blowing into life when Jordy Hiwula gave us the lead in the 9th minute, the result of a wonderful through-ball from Bright Enobakhare. As we counter-attacked with venom in the first-half, the game’s decisive moment was Luke Thomas raced past Portsmouth’s goalkeeper, before he dithered over whether to pass or go for the shot, and then fired straight into a covering defender.
Portsmouth moved through the gears in the second-half, however, the goals that turned the game around had a distinctly avoidable feel about them from a Sky Blues perspective, both coming from set-pieces. First, Tom Naylor got the run on our defence from a corner-kick to equalise, then Lee Burge dropped a cross right onto the feet of Brett Pitman, who fired home emphatically to effectively end our hopes of making the top six.
Manager – Kenny Jackett
Having progressed the club in each of his two full season in charge, Kenny Jackett is now looking to deliver Portsmouth promotion back to the Championship. Despite losing key performers from last season to bigger clubs in Matt Clarke at centre-back and Jamal Lowe out wide, signings such as last season’s joint-second top-scorer in the division, John Marquis, highlight the abundance of quality Jackett has at his disposal.
It has been a slow start for Portsmouth, with a day to the one shot that Shrewsbury Town mustered, with a second loss at the weekend away at Sunderland. With several key players to integrate into the squad, the lack of fluency at this stage is understandable. However, with last season’s meek performances in the Play-Off Semi-Final still fresh in the memory, there are a few murmurs of discontent as to Kenny Jackett’s pragmatic approach.
Who To Look Out For?
While attacking summer signings of John Marquis, Ellis Harrison, Ryan Williams and Marcus Harness catch the eye, Portsmouth’s most important player right now is Lee Brown at left-back. With the team yet to find its creative verve, Brown’s overlapping runs and delivery down the left have been a key outlet for the team in these opening few weeks of the season.
With Brown and Irish winger Ronan Curtis both excellent deliverers of the ball, the key concern for us going into this game is will be marking at set-pieces and Marko Maroši’s command of his penalty area. Portsmouth have the physicality throughout their squad to make things tough for us even if our marking is up to snuff, the best approach may well be to concede as few set-pieces as possible.
In central midfield, the passing and long-range shooting of Ben Close could be key for Portsmouth in unlocking our defence from open play. His central midfield partner, Tom Naylor, a strong shielder of the defence, we could find it hard to create situations where we have our pacey forward-line running at Portsmouth’s slow defence.
Areas To Exploit
Creating that mismatch for speed between our attack and Portsmouth’s defence looks set to be the key way in which we can look to win this game. As we saw in the previous meeting between the two sides, Portsmouth are a side at home that will push up and leave space on the break, it will be up to our forwards to provide quality and a clinical touch when they are given the opportunity.
If there is an ideal time to be playing this fixture, it is now. While Portsmouth have an array of excellent attacking options for this level, it seems as if Kenny Jackett is yet to figure out the system or combinations to bring the best out of his arsenal of forwards. If we can rush out of the blocks and rattle Portsmouth from early on, we have to fancy our chances of getting a positive result.