Preview: Portsmouth

Saturday’s performance won’t live long in the memory, but the result was the kind of win that keeps a promotion campaign ticking over. It lessens the need to get a result in this clash with a red-hot Portsmouth side, even if this is a potentially season-defining game nonetheless.

This is the first of the five fixtures we have to play against the current top six before the end of the season, all of which are at St Andrew’s. It means that our chances of finishing in the top two are within our hands, but to do so, we’ll have to start picking up the kind of results we’ve been close to on several occasions this year but haven’t quite pulled off.

This is when things get serious.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Another midweek game is hardly ideal, with this team in need of a rest given the sloppiness that has seeped into our performances recently. Rest is not an option right now, with Mark Robins having to balance rotating the squad with putting out a team that can get a result here.

Last week’s performance against Birmingham City is likely to have a bearing on Robins’ thinking heading into this game. Against a physically powerful central defensive pairing, going back to that strike pairing of Maxime Biamou and Amadou Bakayoko may give us a similar foothold in this game as we had last week.

Were those two to start here, it will be important that our midfield and wing-backs make ambitious runs to benefit from the furrow the duo plough for us in attack. Just who starts alongside Liam Kelly and Liam Walsh in midfield looks the key decision, with Jamie Allen’s greater mobility possibly giving him an edge over Jordan Shipley and Zain Westbrooke.

With Callum O’Hare presumably unavailable due to the nasty blow to the head he took on Saturday, Mark Robins’ options to change the game from the bench appear to be reduced. This could be an opportunity for Ryan Giles to make his debut – although Robins’ post-match comments on Saturday suggests that he is viewed as a wing-back rather than attacking option – or possibly a chance for Jordy Hiwula to come back into the fold.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting with Portsmouth was one of those bizarre, scarcely credible games of football that crop up on occasion to remind you that you should never give up on a seemingly lost cause.

Despite a bright start for the Sky Blues, Portsmouth looked to be cruising to victory after rattling in two goals before half-time, another just afterwards and then Fankaty Dabo being sent off for a second yellow card to deny Portsmouth a fourth.

A penalty, converted by Matt Godden, seemed to sow the seeds of uncertainty in Portsmouth, who became overly cautious despite Gervane Kastaneer’s sending-off reducing us to nine-men just two minutes after Godden’s goal. By the time Michael Rose headed in a late equaliser to make it 3-3, there was almost an air of inevitability that the game would finish level despite Portsmouth being two men up and having had a two-goal lead.

The Opposition

Manager – Kenny Jackett

Having invested heavily over the summer, Portsmouth looked the division’s strongest side heading into the season. Some unconvincing performances and some baffling team selection decisions – including playing £2million striker John Marquis in a number 10 role where he rarely scored or assisted – put Kenny Jackett under considerable pressure early on this season.

Jackett has managed to gradually pull things back together to turn Portsmouth into the juggernaut that they currently are – having won their last nine games. A settled line-up has seen the defence tighten up, providing the quality Portsmouth have further forward the platform to decide tight games.

Who To Look Out For?

If there is one Portsmouth player we have to ensure has a quiet night, it is winger Ronan Curtis. Just about everything good about Portsmouth at the moment is going through the Irishman whose directness and technique give him the wonderful ability to produce something out of nothing.

On the opposite flank, Kenny Jackett is able to rotate between two pacey wingers in Ryan Williams and Marcus Harness that provide Portsmouth with some serious speed on the counter-attack that we’ll have to be wary of given the space our wing-backs can leave behind them when pushing forward.

Portsmouth’s strong defensive form recently has been built around the giant central defensive pairing of Sean Raggett and Christian Burgess, the sturdy James Bolton at right-back and youth academy goalkeeper Alex Bass coming into the side. While at left-back, the drive and energy of Birmingham City loanee Steve Seddon offers further variation to Portsmouth’s wide threat.

In central midfield, Tom Naylor remains a sturdy presence who helps slow the game down as and when required. He’ll be partnered by either Cameron McGeehan or Ben Close, who are much more forward-thinking and both capable of scoring from long range.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

While Portsmouth are heading into this game in imposing form, this game is arguably the toughest challenge for them on this run they’re on. Having failed to win a league game this season from a losing position, a strong start and an early goal here is going to ask Portsmouth different questions than they have been posed recently.

In away games especially, Kenny Jackett is a manager who places a huge value on the clean sheet in the belief that his team’s counter-attacking threat gets them in front and they can manage the rest of the game. This could well see us enjoy long spells of possession against a set defence, making the movement, speed and accuracy of our passing in midfield important here.

As it’s still too early in the season for must-win games, both managers are likely to be happy with the point here but Portsmouth’s form and greater levels of freshness would appear to give them the advantage here.

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