It’s been quite a familiar sight over the last few games – and in truth, probably a lot of last season.
Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Cross across goal. Nobody on the end of it. Repeat.
Chances were made and plenty of chances were lost during Pompey’s first few games of the 2016-17 season. Bizarrely, this led to some calling for Paul Cook’s head.
But let’s fast-forward through back-to-back wins against Colchester and Exeter, and now things are looking somewhat rosier on the South Coast.
You probably shouldn’t judge a team based on less than a half-dozen of games. You’ll always hope pre-season will see every nook and cranny checked before starting your league campaign – but this is League Two. Aggressive, unforgiving and unflattering, so it takes a while to get up to speed.
And that’s what Pompey are starting to do. You can’t call for a manager’s head after three games of the campaign but, similarly, you shouldn’t expect to walk the league after winning the following two matches.
It happens at every club, in every league, across the world. That’s why we’re supporters and that’s why we love football.
But irrespective of results – good or bad – football will always present talking points.
Most recently, plenty of chitter-chatter has been spent on Cook’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. It’s a system he likes, and it’s one commonplace for Pompey since the manager arrived at the club. It’s the formation that saw us into the play-offs last season…
…but could it all be about to change?
The boss changed things up as the Blues failed to break down a resilient Colchester side. With the fans calling for Conor Chaplin to be brought on, Cook acted. In doing so, he also switched the side into a more traditional 4-4-2 system.
It’s a set-up that has been a long-standing favourite in football but it’s also one which hasn’t proved fruitful at Pompey in previous seasons. Perhaps we didn’t have the right players – or the right passing mentality – back then, but we certainly do now.
Chaplin’s entrance saw Colchester stretched in defence and once Gary Roberts had netted a penalty, the youngster’s fine lofted pass freed Roberts to lob home his second – and secured the Blues’ first win of the season.
And against Exeter, similar happened. Although he wasn’t involved in the penalty nor the scoring of it, Cook introduced Chaplin – as well as Noel Hunt – to see a move to 4-4-2 and another late penalty to earn Pompey all three points.
Two games, two formation changes and twice, Chaplin’s entrance has seen the side become more tenacious, more vibrant and more charismatic in front of goal.
Coincidence? Probably not. And the youngster’s involvement has been the other major talking point over recent weeks.
There’s no doubt that he’s a talent. A real talent with an eye for goal, as demonstrated with some fine finishes last season. That neat, narrow strike at home to Reading will live long in the memory.
Sadly, those are the glimpses that’ll see higher-placed sides vying for his signature and it’s a case of when, not if, he decides to make the step up. Even if we go up this year, it’s without question that Chaplin is destined for the top. Will it be with Pompey? We’d hope, but I’d wish him well, whatever happens.
But staying with the here and now, I totally understand why fans want to see more of Chaplin. More than just a cameo to run down the clock, and more than just 30 minutes to turn a tie. We want to see him start, and see if his bright play can finally be the spark to light up our League Two title bid.
Much like the formation question, it’s totally down to Cook. I certainly haven’t seen enough negatives since his arrival to question his judgement as our manager, and despite what fans might like to see, Cook’s the one paid to take us up and build the base for our future.
Will we like every decision? Probably not. But hindsight’s a wonderful thing. It’s going to be another exciting season – with many ups and downs.
Let’s just enjoy the football for what it is. Easy on the eye, always attacking but with the ups and downs that keep us on our toes each week. That’s League Two for you.
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