As the Blues prepare to face one of the Championship’s best, many fans have been pondering Pompey’s ability to compete in England’s second tier. After a spectacular first half of the season, how would we cope with the step up?
Firstly, the Championship is undeniably a superior leap than League Two to League One. Very rarely do teams gain back-to-back promotions from League One and Championship, whereas many League Two teams climb into the third tier and are successful: Burton Albion, Scunthorpe, Fleetwood and Rotherham have all either enjoyed promotion or come close via playoffs.
The quality of the Championship is evidently higher, with expansive styles of play seen more frequently adopted. Leeds pride themselves on a possession-based game whilst our hosts Norwich city are known for an unrestrained style. This supports the fact Pompey’s pragmatic style will be given a comprehensive examination should they reach the Championship.
However, there are some successful examples that should give the Fratton Faithful encouragement, that our pragmatic effective style is suited for the whirlwind that lies above. Middlesbrough currently sit fifth and are amongst the division’s lowest scorers, however a solid foundation has led to another promising position, at the half way point.
There have been teams in the Championship who have faced difficulties through open styles of play. Paul Cook’s Wigan Athletic currently sit 20th having been victims to his possession-based game, seeing them leak 40 goals this season. Therefore, there is hope that should promotion be attained, Kenny Jackett’s footballing philosophy could stand up to the test.
More hope for Pompey fans is the age of our current squad, and the development of our youngest assets at a higher level. Jamal Lowe, Ronan Curtis, Jack Whatmough, Matt Clarke and Ben Close would all benefit from exposure at a higher level. A sustainable future in the Championship could be achieved if such named players are kept at the club. In recent years, a number of Premier League Clubs have struggled in the Championship with ageing top-flight talent not performing and on high wages. Aston Villa last season could not bounce back and Stoke City this season have been a prime example.
The stats this season confirm Pompey are amongst the elite sides in League One along with Barnsley and Luton Town. The Blues sit in the top sides in the Experimental 361 stats for: Shot dominance, attacking effectiveness, expected goals and are the divisions most formidable side.
Arguably, based on these stats the Blues need a more formidable challenge than what the third-tier is conjuring up. However, these stats are clearly not 100% accurate. Sunderland do not excel in these graphs, nevertheless they currently sit third.
Pompey seemingly have the talent to challenge for a place in the Championship, although strengthening must take place in order to survive. Our solid base is clearly ready for the test of the league above, however other areas of the pitch will need addressing.
Midfield is a problem area. The uncertain future of Ben Thompson has highlighted that Jackett’s side potentially needs a quality replacement in that position to compete.
Pompey’s wing play has been outstanding, if they can keep hold of Lowe and Curtis and keep the same amount of quality cover, then this should not be a problem area for the Blues.
The striking department has been a sticking point for most fans this season. Ollie Hawkins has been effective in his role and we have not seen much of Brett Pitman as a regular starter. A striker who can perform Hawkins’ role with Pitman’s potency would be indispensable for Jackett’s side in the Championship.
Today’s game, win or lose should be a good measure of our Championship credentials.
Photos: Andrew Hurdle / Sam Stone