As we prepare for 2,000-odd Pompey fans to descend upon Adams Park, here’s one of them, Matthew Phillips (@MattPhillips78), with an insight into our vistors.
It’s fair to say it’s been a disappointing start to the season for Pompey. What do you put that down to? Interestingly the downturn in form has been going on for a while, stretching back to last season. Our fantastic run of eight consecutive wins, including that glorious day at Wembley in the spring [the EFL Trophy final victory over Sunderland] brought us so close to automatic promotion, but it caught up with a team that picked itself all season long. Since the Easter Monday victory over Coventry on April 22nd, we have won just once in 11 outings. The inevitable loss of the outstanding, irreplaceable, two-time player of the season Matt Clarke to Brighton (£5m) who had given us an extra season when he could’ve left earlier and the outstanding attacking, goalscoring (13 goals) attributes of Jamal Lowe to Wigan (£3m) has certainly added to the downturn. The fantastic 2018/19 campaign was result of everything coming together, a settled team that picked itself, stayed virtually injury free and a defensive backline that suffocated the opposition, while the counter-attacking weapons in Ronan Curtis, Oli Hawkins and Jamal Lowe punished teams on the break, especially away from home, where a club record 13 wins on our travels was achieved.
Fans seem to be getting on Kenny Jackett’s back. That’s to be expected in the circumstances, but does he deserve more time? Do you think he’ll get it? On the outside, it would understandably be strange to find Jackett under fire, by what is now a large majority of the fanbase, given that we finished fourth on 88 pts and lifted the Checkatrade Trophy last season. Yet on the inside, fans’ trust in the manager is at an all time low. It goes back to the curious team selections once our unbeaten run came to an end last April, his decision to leave out number of starters in the final game at home to Accrington (1-1) that saw us drop from 3rd to 4th and, rather than play Doncaster (obviously still very tough opponents), face Sunderland in the playoffs. Jackett’s negative tactics in the first leg (0-1) rankled, despite Sunderland being down to ten men for 32 minutes of the contest. The home leg was nothing more than a disappointment, not for the fact that the 0-0 draw eliminated the blues, but the decision to bench Curtis without even bringing him on or really taking the game to the Mackems left a bitter taste.
This overly negative style of play has been even more graphic this season so far. Facing Coventry in an end to end encounter last month, having gone 3-1 up against ten, then nine men, Jackett made the unfogivable decision to take off goalscorer Gareth Evans for centre-half Christian Burgess to hold onto a 3-2 lead vs those NINE men. The inevitable equaliser came and instead of a really good win against the top team in the division as I write this, it felt like a loss and it broke the trust of many fans who could clearly be heard saying that this was the day Jackett lost the trust of the fans who had backed him and given him the benefit of the doubt. The repercussions of that breathtaking ineptitude have scarred the whole club and recent performances have shown that this seems to have spread to the players, who seem confused by his questionable tactics. His team selections have been bizarre, playing our best CB at right-back and our best midfielder at CB while having nothing of a midfield to speak of, no discernible pattern or shape, nor an identity – a far cry from last season’s team. He has also sidelined captaincy duo Brett Pitman (nine goals 18/19) and Evans (11 goals), even bringing on the latter at Blackpool and taking him off in the same game. Despite having a 17-day break between games, Jackett stuck with playing a CB out at right back, with a gameplan of playing through him and lumping in crosses from 40 yards away.
People may think Pompey fans are being too unrealistic in criticising Jackett, but he has broken the trust of often the most patient of supporters. Surprisingly, the issues were there in the background last season. Even in the games we won 4-1, his negative tactics meant that for portions of those contests we were hanging on for dear life. So often we’d outplay teams in the opening half to go into half time 2-0 up, only to come out a differnet side and setback to then hang on for 2-1. His tactics resulted in every game being far too close and more nervy than necessary.
These poor tactics and lack of in-game adjustment have come back to haunt him so far this season. With such a stingy defence last season, he got away with it, but with three of our four starters from that team no longer in the side, he cannot. Scoring first this time around is no longer the guarantee of success it was. As we all know, winning games is the cure all for all these issues and last season certainly showed that. In short, the shortcomings of Jackett have always been there but are now certainly coming to the fore. In my opinion, we have a good side, but we can clearly see the manager is holding us back.
I really don’t like changing managers, but that Coventry debacle rankles. Bizarre team selections, poor tactics, and terrible use of substitutes give little confidence we can trust him going forward. I’d like him to stay, but he needs to change.
It’s going to be a vital couple of weeks where things potentially could come to a head at the club. There’s no doubt the club under the Eisners is being run well, sensibly and self-sufficiently, and their passion for keeping the management team a long-term one with yearly progression should be admired. Despite clearly having a job for life, Jackett is doing his best to lose it. His support at board level is concrete as part of that long-term, slow growth both on and off the pitch as we still recover from all those years of financial ruin, but fan patience is at its lowest in his time at the club. Unless Jackett changes his ways and goes back our winning formula and no more square pegs in round holes, there is going to be an impasse coming up between fans and ownership.
He will certainly be given time, but patience is running out with the poor style of football on show so far. When we are winning, it’s accepted but certainly not now. We struggled to a 2-2 draw on Tuesday despite Burton being down to ten men for 70 minutes. So that’s a game-and-a-half versus nine and ten men and we’ve collected just two points.
The expectation at the start of the season must have been to go up. Is automatic promotion still a realistic aim if you get things right, do you feel? For the past four years we have had a clear identity and made slow, manageable progress both on and off the pitch while being financially self-sustaining. Missing out on promotion was palatable as we all thought we could progress again and finish higher again this term. We have been improving our final position each year, but that feels a long way off this season. Automatic promotion wasn’t so much an expectation, more to be at the right end of the table competing within the top six. If we were offered a 6th placed position now, I would snap your hand off. With so many games postponed, it feels to most that this season hasn’t really begun yet.
Just sum up your playing/style tactics. It would be fair to say that thanks to the manager changing his tactics and team every game so far (instead of doing this in the pre-season), even us fans have no insight into how we will look tomorrow. The players don’t seem to know either. My hope is that he sees sense and starts James Bolton, a natural RB, and moves our best CB Christian Burgess back to his natural position and captain Tom Naylor to defensive midfield where he has been outstanding. Ryan Williams started for the first time on Tuesday in place of the injured Marcus Harness (a huge loss) on the right of the attacking three alongside John Marquis and Curtis. Pitman should retain his spot in the number 10 position behind Marquis. We just hope we have our balance back again. We are built to soak up pressure and hit teams on the break, a tactic that worked so well last season away from home. Midfielder Andy Cannon is pushing for a recall too.
How do you think the game will go? What’s your score prediction? Recent fixtures between our teams have involved lots of goals and I can see that being the case once again, especially given how three of the four starters in our stingy defence have either left or been ruled out by injury. I predict it will either be 3-2 or 2-3. We are due an away win but have to improve 100% to have any chance of that. I fear our defence in a physical battle, I must admit, strangely for a Kenny Jackett side. There’s no middle ground with being a Portsmouth fan – either great wins or terrible defeats. At least it isn’t boring. A tough game for us against a very well drilled, balanced Wycombe side I have a lot of admiration for. I hope whatever the score, both sets of fans enjoy the game, and I wish the Chairboys all the best for the rest of the season and hope the takeover vote goes the way you hope. As a club saved by the fan ownership model, we support you all the way!