As it stands: Wycombe 9-4–4–1 (3rd, 16 pts, F14, A10) | Portsmouth 6-1–3–2 (18th, 6 pts, F9, A9)
League form: Wycombe WDWLD | Portsmouth WLDDD
Last time out: Wycombe 1-1 Accrington | Portsmouth 2-2 Burton
League head-to-head: P10 | Wycombe W1 | Portsmouth W4 | D5
Previous meeting: Wycombe 2-3 Portsmouth (06/04/19, League One)
Coming into the Game
While Wycombe are one of just six teams to have played a full complement of nine League One fixtures so far, Portsmouth are only half a dozen games into their campaign – the fewest in the division – due to a festival in the city, international call-ups, and having been scheduled to face Bury. Tuesday night’s draw against ten-man Burton was Pompey’s first league action in 17 days, although a number of first team regulars were involved in the two EFL Trophy matches sandwiched in between. In fact, they’ve won every game in that competition and the Carabao Cup, seeing off Championship Birmingham and QPR in the latter.
In the league, Kenny Jackett’s men’s sole success so far was a 2-0 win over newly promoted Tranmere in their Fratton Park opener. Fans are on the boss’ back, with questions being asked of his tactics and team selection. All things considered, it probably seems like an ideal time to play Pompey, but let’s not pretend that football is straightforward. Unsurprisingly given their good overall record against us, they’ve fared well at Adams Park – let’s spin it that way – winning twice, drawing twice, and losing once in South Bucks. Both sides need a win with varying degress of urgency, so a repeat of last season’s two relatively high-scoring affairs (2-2 and 2-3) isn’t out of the question. We’ll probably see either that or a snooze-fest.
Last season: 4th in League One (lost to Sunderland in play-off semi-finals)
Manager: Kenny Jackett (appointed June 2017)
Top league scorer in 2019/20: Ronan Curtis (RW) & Marcus Harness (LW) – 2
WhoScored.com highest rated player in 2019/20: Harness – 7.29/10*
Most league minutes in 2019/20: Craig MacGillivray (GK), Paul Downing (CB), Tom Naylor (CB/CDM) – 540
Style of play: Keep the ball, get crosses in, attacks weighted to the right
*WhoScored.com Ratings are explained here
Three Talking Points: Wycombe
Third time lucky tactically?
Gareth Ainsworth doesn’t get it wrong very often, but he did at Gillingham and in the first half against Accrington. Matching the Gills’ diamond backfired horribly, while dropping off Stanley proved almost as disastrous. I suggested that Accrington were similar to Lincoln, who we dominated with our best performance in many a year, but Portsmouth are even more so – ostensibly at least. They rank second in the league on average possession (54.8%) and try to control the game in the opposition’s half. In theory, we should let them have it at the back then press as they advance. Also like Lincoln, they tend to attack down the wings – possibly with even greater intensity. David Wheeler and Scott Kashket both did a fine job of combatting that the other week, and we’ll need to see more of the same space restriction from whoever occupies those positions this time out – which could well be those two again.
A Selection Dilemma in Attack?
Alex Samuel and Paul Smyth are confirmed absentees for this clash, while Rolando Aarons remains a doubt. Against opponents who’ve seen more of the ball than any other side in League One bar Rochdale (who we face next week, incidentally), Samuel’s indefatigable pressing will be a big miss. Wheeler played through the middle in midweek and we sent it long, which didn’t pay off. Kashket was a constant menace on the right – and not just with the ball at his feet either; he continued to exhibit a seemingly newfound sense of defensive determination. Our best bet may be to play the little genius centrally in the front three, allowing him to cause problems with his movement, skill and tenacity. A repeat of his stunning strike in April’s meeting would be nice too.
Rebuilding Fortress Adams Park
I reckon it’s more or less as foreboding as before its collapse last winter, no?. No team has won in HP12 in 90 minutes since Charlton ground out a 1-0 victory on 9th April. Since then, Walsall, Fleetwood, Bolton, MK Dons, Southend, Lincoln and Accrington have all tried and failed in the league – and Reading in the Carabao Cup. This seven-game home unbeaten run means we’ve already passed our best such streak of last season. So far in 2019/20, we’re averaging 2.6 points per home game and 1.3 points oer away game, which is play-off form 😉 In all seriousness, though, our (relatively) strong home record is what kept us in League One. Only play-off semi-finalists Doncaster (19 points) and Charlton (18 points) showed greater disparities between home and away form than Wycombe (17 points) in 2018/19. With this season’s home form across the whole of 2018/19, we’d have finished 6th. Just saying.
Three Talking Points: Portsmouth
What’s Up Kenny Jackett’s Sleeve?
I think Portsmouth’s own fans would like to know the answer to that. Jackett is yet to name an unchanged side – then again, nor has Gareth – and has switched between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3. There doesn’t appear to be any great logic behind his choice of formation, although Pompey did draw with strong starters Coventry and Blackpool when employing a 4-3-3, so perhaps there’s something in that. Should Jackett opt for the same system for this one, our nemesis Brett Pitman – who put three goals past us last season – will probably return to the bench following his start in the number 10 role in the week – when he emphatically dispatched the point-salvaging penalty. The bad news is that would most likely mean a start for one of the best strikers in the division, John Marquis, who netted home and away against us in 2019/20 during a 26-goal campaign for Doncaster.
Ball Hogs Not Yet Operating at Full Capacity?
As mentioned, Pompey are very much a possession-based outfit. It’s proved effective in the sense that it’s led to them averaging 15 shots per game (second in the league to our 17.3), even if they’ve not been as clinical in front of goal as might have been expected with the attacking quality in their ranks. They’re creating, on average, a very solid two big chances per game, so the threat is there, but marquee signing Marquis has managed only one goal in five starts so far, while none of their others strikers have scored from open play in the league yet. One other point of note: in spite of their high possession ranking, Portsmouth are dispossed 15.3 times a game, the third highest in the league. The midfield battle might be there to be won. Hopefully, we’ve learnt from the Accrington game, when it was and we didn’t take advantage.
Stop Those Crosses Coming In!
Like pedestrians at a pelican crossing stuck on the green man, Portsmouth are always crossing. They average 31 crosses per game, the most in the league by a fair margin. By comparison, we average 15.8. When we look at accurate crosses, there’s little difference between the sides (6.3 v 5.8 accurate crosses per game), but what the numbers don’t tell us is the danger posed by second balls – something with which we didn’t deal particularly well on Tuesday night. Pompey look good at keeping moves alive in and around the box, so defensive organisation will be key. We lacked it badly on Tuesday, but I imagine we’ll see leader and enforcer Darius Charles return after his rest. Joe Jacobson will almost certainly be back too. We’ll need to be solid on that left-hand side; Pompey channel 44% of their attacks down the right (compared with 32% down the left) and Australia international Ryan Williams, signed this summer from Rotherham, looks a bit of a handful.
In the Middle: Seb Stockbridge
Stockbridge’s last game in charge of Wycombe was one to forget for us as we went down 4-2 at a Marcus Maddison-inspired Peterborough – when Matt Bloomfield made his 500th career appearance. Last time he oversaw a Pompey match, there were considerably fewer goals; they won 1-0 at Rochdale in the FA Cup second round back in December. He’s dished out 21 yellow cards and awarded six penalties in 2019/20, with his seven games averaging 4.14 goals each.