Can Pompey gain automatic promotion ? Of course.
Will they? Yes if the front four show more incisiveness and ruthlessness in front of goal. But that’s a big if.
By this stage of the season, a team’s DNA is almost as set in stone as a suspect on “Silent Witness”. And Pompey’s DNA is that they are a decent footballing team which dominates possession but lacks a killer instinct.
That was the essential difference at top of the table Doncaster. The leaders were just a tad more dynamic and clinical in attack. But generally there’s no cause for complaint with Pompey on the road, where they have been hard to beat and earned plenty of points.
But home matches can be so frustrating. Even struggling teams like Hartlepool and Notts County have found it a little too easy to deny Paul Cook’s team the points. They crowd the midfield, get everyone behind the ball and counter if they can. And Pompey have rather lacked the pace or invention to find the answers.
What’s to be done to maximise Pompey’s advantage of having 11 home games and only 9 away remaining ?
Cookie perhaps has to accept that a shake up is needed in attacking areas. Conor Chaplin, rightly taken out of the firing line for a while, is refreshed and ready to fire now. He has to play as the best natural finisher.
But he can’t play up top on his own in a 4-2-3-1. He has to play off a bigger man. Which brings us to Michael Smith, who has a good touch and deft skills – but lacks the devil, muscularity and craving to score goals that you ideally need from a number 9.
Hence the punt on the prolific Hampton & Richmond striker Nick Kabamba to join his ex club mate Jamal Lowe at Fratton. It’s asking a lot to expect the pair to jump two levels and fire Pompey to promotion. But you never know. At worst they increase Cook’s options.
The manager hasn’t got enough from Carl Baker, Gary Roberts or Kyle Bennett, although all three have the ability to be major factors if rediscovering their top form.
It’s significant that Kal Naismith has overtaken all three this season. He’s been bright. Getting this area of the team right is crucial. The rest of it is not perfect but works pretty well.
Let’s hope Paul Cook can find the right blend. I think Lowe, in particular, might make a difference providing pace and goals.
Final note. It’s daft to talk of changing manager. Be real. Pompey are bang in the promotion race so Cook is doing plenty right. Who would replace him anyway?
The requirement now is for a unity ahead of a final push. There will be twists, turns and setbacks but the players will operate best at a noisy not anxious Fratton Park.
[Photo: Official PFC]