The Opposition View: Portsmouth

Matt Phillips (@Matt Phillips78) goes deep on his beloved Pompey ahead of our big Boxing Day match down on the south coast.

Since the sides last met a couple of months ago, things have picked up for Pompey. The chants of “We want Jackett out!” from the away end were loud and clear that day. Has he won fans (back) over now?

I was one of those angrily chanting on that hot afternoon after a dispiriting, insipid and rudderless performance; I wanted change. It’s a funny one because despite the upturn in form since an equally turgid performance at Wimbledon a few weeks later (by the same score) – which  has been surprising and something I didn’t see coming under the current regime – the feeling had always been that another manager with fresh ideas would come in and get this team firing, a team full of very good players at most positions who are proven at this level.

Despite the upturn in fortunes and form that has seen us quietly creep up the division from 19th to 10th and close the gap on those from 2nd down to us to a handful of points, fans of other clubs would probably be surprised to hear that the fans haven’t been won over. As you know, winning is the cure-all for everything.

My gut feeling is that after losing to a very poor Wimbledon, something had to change. The Dons fans and ourselves on the away terrace behind Jackett’s dugout all sang “You’re getting sacked in the morning” that afternoon as we conceded yet another 90th minute goal.

Yet I didn’t trust our owners to make the change and alas they have spoken nothing but support for him. It became clear that a new manager was not going to be forthcoming. I think at any other club, he would have been sacked for that and many previous pathetic performances and disorganised showings.

I personally believe that the players rallied around between themselves in spite of the manager, to work hard for the team and fans again – the discontent of the players was for all to see at close quarters on game days, arguing between themselves, glaring at one another and egos at the forefront rather than [pulling together] for the common good. I heard about team meetings via the local media and I believe they decided to get on the same page. Certainly since then, the effort levels have significantly risen and they are playing for each other as a team, and the fans are responding to that in the stands. Where there had been a growing rift between the players and the fans, it seems there has been a siege-like mentality and it certainly has shown of late and confidence in the team has grown, as always comes with wins.

That said, the fans haven’t forgotten how bad we have been at times, the puzzling team selections, tactics, and treatment of players who are both in the team and those that clearly should be starting, along with loyalty to some badly underperforming. Jackett doesn’t motivate the team, while his use of substitutions and lack of ability whatsoever to adjust during games are still there. Despite the better performances and results, and in some cases purely results, his style of play is hard to watch and fans are tolerating it while we are doing better. Our tactics are poor and rather than using the players to define a style of play or shape, he is fitting them into roles that some are not comfortable with.

The fact is that most want a change but can accept that it seems the club won’t do anything until the summer. You couldn’t change manager now after our current form and nor should we. But don’t let that fool you about Jackett. Very nice man, though, which makes it hard sometimes talking about him losing his job, but the game has overtaken his style of management and he is incredibly stubborn.

Thanks largely to only two league defeats (ok, disappointing ones but still) since then, you’re within touching distance of the play-offs. Is automatic promotion out of the question, though? Where do you think you’re likely to finish?

We’ve been quietly picking up points, caught up in terms of playing our games in hand, and we’re scoring more goals and, as such, climbing the table and reeling in teams who have got a little too comfortable in the top six. We seem to enjoy playing the teams at the top more than those towards the bottom and have really raised our game for those. Automatic promotion is absolutely out of the question, but our form has given us a chance now for the rest of the season – at this point, we’re just two points off 6th place. I think we’ll finish around about where we are now and then have a clearout in the summer (many are out of contract in June). If we don’t make the play-offs then there will most likely be that change of manager too.

Defensively, we are far weaker than last season. When [centre-back] Christian Burgess was suspended at Accrington, we fell to pieces. Sean Raggett and Paul Downing are acceptable when playing alongside Burgess, but on their own they are awful and Oli Hawkins, a player I like very much, is a centre-forward not a centre-back – hence the heavy defeat (4-1). Central midfield is also, for all of Jackett’s three seasons in charge, a soft spot so gives no protection whatsoever. With Matt Clarke, Nathan Thompson, Jack Whatmough and Christian Burgess at the back last season, we were stingy and masked our midfield weakness. That is some talent drain and the replacements have been poor.

We have only won once away from home this time around, having been victorious on 12 occasions in 2018/19, and this will have to improve as we wont be able to stay undefeated at home all season.

The transfer window will open soon. What are your key needs and, given how sustainably you seem to be run at the moment, do you think you’ll be able to get them? Will anyone leave the club?

Our transfer record in January the past two years has been nothing short of disastrous and it cost us automatic promotion last season. So our track record is poor. That said, our entire recruitment as a club has not been acceptable with some questions regarding whether Jackett has signed some of the squad or another figure has. I wouldn’t trust Jackett with any more money. He has signed players and would prefer to use them out of position, which says everything about his or our recruitment. I would like to us make moves in central midfield and at centre-half in the loan market to give us any hope of a play-off finish.

This game marks the halfway point of the season for Wycombe and almost does for you. Who have been your star players in the first half of the campaign and why?

Burgess has been a rock at the back this season, a true 7/10 player every week, holding together a hodgepodge of a defence on his own and even covering at right-back in August when asked. A true professional and a big part of the community too.

Ellis Harrison: It took Kenny Jackett until the start of November to start his summer signing from Ipswich, which was a surprise as each time he has come off the bench he has impressed, as well as scoring a number of goals in the cup games. In my opinion, much of the upturn in form has been because of him. Harrison is a real handful, a physical forward who combines pace and power and brings others into play, making life easier for [wingers] Ryan Williams and Ronan Curtis.

Curtis: I have had to eat a lot of humble pie. I thought he was awful for the first months of the season, culminating in being sarcastically cheered by the home crowd when he was substituted against Bolton. Having been left out for the following couple of weeks, he came back re-invigorated, a new player and back to the rip-roaring best with a swagger that he had in the first half of last season. He has scored six in his last eight games and his eye for great goals is back. His confidence is back too and he has caused untold problems for teams in recent weeks, including Ipswich on Saturday.

Last of all, how do you think the game will go? Score prediction welcome!

I feel this will be an even, physical game, and with Pompey coming off a big home win and the Chairboys suffering a rare defeat, both sides will be quite happy with a point, cancelling each other out. I’m going for 1-1.

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