Opposition Focus: Portsmouth (A)

We chatted with Hugh, Sports writer/editor for Pompey NewsNow (@PompeyNewsNow) and Host of the Podcast for PompeyNewsNow (@PO4cast) ahead of Saturday’s clash at Fratton Park.

Pompey currently sit in tenth place… as an early season title favourite, how would you explain your season so far? 

Disappointing, underachieving and inconsistent. It has been a difficult season so far for Pompey, who were predicted to push on from their 4th place finish last season and press for the automatics. 

After a woeful start to the season, Pompey has steadied the ship and had been on a steady 10-game unbeaten run. While the team has underachieved, League One looks wide open this season and the season is far from lost. 

With that is Kenny Jackett a manger on borrowed time?

The fan base is divided on whether they want manager Kenny Jackett to remain in charge or make way for another manager. 

You can feel this division, both online and inside Fratton Park. It is not just the results that have upset the fans. The negative long-ball style of football that Jackett plays has taken its toll on some fans, who turn up to be entertained, not just see the team grind out results.  

The anti-Jackett feeling bubbled over at AFC Wimbledon away when Pompey lost 1-0 in the last few minutes. Chants of “We want Jackett Out” could be heard loud and clear right next to the bench. 

However, the owners have come out and backed Jackett and results have improved. While it is understandable fans of other clubs would perceive Jackett would be on the hot seat the truth is, he is not. I would be flabbergasted now if the club sacked him before the end of the season. 

Saying all that, you only sit three points outside of the play-offs and have improved recently… could that be a sign the tide is turning?

Before Saturdays’ horror show against Accrington, Pompey have been finding a way to collect points and looked to be improving style-wise too. 

Pompey has struggled against teams in the top 6. An impressive 3-2 win against Rotherham at Fratton Park was the first time in 2019 Pompey had beaten a team in the play-off or promotion spaces. The scoreline flattered Rotherham and many in the Fratton Faithful declared this the win that would push us on towards the play-offs. 

The draw against Peterborough 2-2 again was a good performance but suddenly with the injuries, the momentum may have hit a wall. Pompey was forced to make four changes at the back against Accrington and it showed. 

If Jackett can’t find a way to make the back four work, all the previous form goes out the window going forward.

You have former Town striker Ellis Harrison on your books, how has he been performing? 

Ellis Harrison has been fantastic since breaking into the starting line-up and is currently keeping John Marquis behind him at 10. By playing Harrison, Jackett has a player that can hold the ball up and bring the likes of Ronan Curtis, Marcus Harness, Ryan Williams and Marquis into play. Harrison currently has 6 goals in all competitions this season. 

Harrison has been unplayable in the air, consistently winning nearly all the headers against oppositions defence, which have led to goals. A flick on against Accrington helped create Curtis’s goal. He also scored a goal with his feet against Peterborough firing across the keeper and looks dangerous when a through ball is played. 

A popular player with the fans, Harrison’s work rate is outstanding. He is a very good player who will score goals at this level. 

Who else has impressed you in a Pompey shirt this season? 

In a roller-coaster of a season, it is difficult to say who has impressed me as the team has underperformed. Christian Burgess has been solid at the back and was suspended for last weeks game after picking up 5 yellow cards. 

Ronan Curtis really struggled at the start of the season but looks back to his best scoring goals and using his passion productively, rather than letting it affect his game. That Harrison bloke is alright too. 

Last season you won the Checkatrade Trophy but stumbled over the finish line into the Play-Offs…Did the Trophy come at the expense of your league form?

It did not have as much of an effect as a lot of journalists make out. Jackett played the young players for most of the competition and used it to give match fitness to players in the squad. Not rotating the starting 11 was more of an issue. 

Also, teams worked us out and we failed to evolve. Pompey was clear at the top at Christmas however, they were grinding out results by the odd goal, not blowing teams away. 

You lost former Blue Matt Clarke and striker Jamal Lowe in the summer. How much of an impact has that had on your season?

Matt Clarke is a class player who I believe has a future playing in the Premier League. It was always going to be impossible to replace Clarke, but Jackett’s summer recruitment has looked poor in defence. Paul Downing came in and looked good for Doncaster last season but so far, has failed to impress. So much so that with four changes in defence, Downing was still sat on the bench. Pompey needs some defensive stability and hopes the return of Jack Whatmough from long term injury, fixes this problem. 

Jamal Lowe and John Marquis (signed as the replacement for Jamal Lowe) are completely different players. Lowe played RW in a 4-2-3-1 but found a way to score goals utilising his pace and finishing. I am a big fan of Marcus Harness and believe he can be a suitable replacement for Lowe. 

Thoughts on Ipswich this campaign? 

Ipswich is doing very well as I expected and look like a team who understand their coach’s system. Defensively solid with only 15 goals conceded in League One. Looks good on the counterattack if your opponent pushes too far forward. Decent in possession and James Norwood looks like he has stepped up League One easily, starting the campaign well. Overall, I have been impressive, but not blown away for a team in an automatic promotion spot. A lot like Pompey last season…

What team do you expect to Pompey to play on Saturday? 

The team will set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. 

Burgess returns from suspension and is Pompey’s number one centre back. Both our left-backs are now out medium/long term Lee Brown and Branden Haundstrup. 

To make matters worse, Handstrup had been playing right-back due to Jackett’s lack of faith in our current right-back who he signed from Shrewsbury James Bolton. 

Burgess’ return means Tom Naylor will likely return to his favoured position in holding midfield alongside local lad Ben Close. 

Rangers loanee Ross McCrorie filling in at right-back. Utility player Anton Walkes will likely have the difficult task of playing left-back where he struggles. 

Curtis, Marquis and Williams will likely make up the front three behind Ellis Harrison. 

Predictions? 

Ipswich has been a master class in defensive stability all season and is undefeated in 9 of 10 away game. Pompey are undefeated at home in the league but will more likely concede a goal. I am going for an optimistic 1-1 draw. 

Ellis Harrison for Pompey and James Norwood for Ipswich.

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