Pompey face arguably their toughest test of the season this evening when they face a relentless Luton Town side, whose 16-game unbeaten run has seen them rise to the summit of the League one table.
With Luton’s powerful home form most fans would take a point. However, a victory on Tuesday evening would put the Blues in a great position with a game in-hand.
The last time Pompey visited Luton in the league, Pompey produced one of the best away performances we have seen for many a year. What are the key areas that will define this crucial clash in the promotion race?
Luton will certainly take the game to Pompey and a solid defensive base is crucial if they want to take anything from the game.
Pompey must ensure a clean-sheet is kept at least until half-time, the early goals conceded at Oxford effectively killed the game. Matt Clarke and Jack Whatmough will have to deal with the in-form James Collins.
The physical front-man has 14 goals to his name this season and has proved pivotal to their surge up the table. Nevertheless, only a handful of strikers have proved a real test for Clarke and Whatmough (Lyle Taylor and Kieffer Moore etc).
Collins will have to be at his potent best to achieve success against the Blues centre-halves, whilst the Pompey pair will have to recapture some form to contain the in-form striker. It may well be a key battle in deciding the outcome of this promotion battle.
Luton have a distinguished style of play that will endure even with the departure of Nathan Jones. They push their full-backs (James Justin and Jack Stacey) high up the field when in possession and try to play a high-pressure game, pinning their opposition back.
The Blues could have some success on the counter attack if they break quickly and efficiently like they have done on many occasions this season. If the Blues can utilise Jamal Lowe’s pace down the right flank, whilst the full-backs are pushed high up-field it could reap rewards for Kenny Jackett’s men on the break.
The majority of the time this season, Jackett’s side have shone against promotion rivals with 10 points gathered against the current top six. This has mainly been down to teams attacking Pompey and not placing eleven men behind the ball. The clash with Luton should be no different.
The two teams bring contrasting styles of play, with the expansive Hatters potentially leaving gaps for Pompey to exploit. It will be crucial for the front-four to pick up pockets of space when in the Luton half. Getting the ball forward quickly and dominating in the oppositions final third.
Can Pompey out muscle Luton? The Blues have been accused many times this season of ‘bullying’ sides off the pitch. It is evidently effective and may-well be needed in full force at Kenilworth Road.
Very few teams can match Kenny’s team physically and it would be a shock if Luton managed to ‘bully’ Pompey. If Pompey can yet again dominate physically, it may yield some success and will allow Pompey to gain a foothold in the game.
A key aspect from a Pompey point of view will be who leads the line against two physical centre-halves in Matty Pearson and Sonny Bradley. This does not look like the ideal game for Brett Pitman.
However, in a match which will potentially be decided by fine margins, every halve chance must be taken. Pompey cannot afford to pass-up the chances that present themselves.
Oli Hawkins has been key to Pompey’s style of play, nevertheless he has squandered some guilt-edge chances this season, which cannot happen against the Hatters.
It will be an interesting selection issue for Jackett with new recruit Omar Bogle in the running as well (subject to international clearance). Could he throw him in from the outset?
The final issue regarding selection will be the decision over Louis Dennis, who was excellent against QPR on Saturday.
With a game where Pompey won’t dominate possession it may not suit the former Bromley man, who has proved his quality in opening up well organised defences. Jamal Lowe should come back into the equation and his electric pace could be key on the break.
Photo: Losing My Sight