How Portsmouth can beat Sunderland and return to Wembley

After an underwhelming performance at the Stadium of Light, Portsmouth have a one goal deficit to overcome in their play-off semi-final 2nd leg.

In a season defining match, Pompey need to rediscover their attacking movement if they have any chance of returning for a shot at promotion.

Sunderland are far from a perfect team. Portsmouth simply need to rely on their relentless, direct style of football to win the tie.

Exploiting the flanks

Pompey created few clear-cut chances against Sunderland in the 1st leg. The lack of overlapping runs from the full-backs was a key aspect of the Blues’ poor performance in the final-third.

Ronan Curtis, Jamal Lowe and Viv Solomon-Otabor were all left isolated. Without support from their full-backs, the wingers were contained by Sunderland’s defence.

When Pompey’s attacking players overload the wide-areas, they create so many opportunities for their attacking players.

Lowe and Curtis can make runs down the by-line or cut inside to create a goalscoring opportunities. The Sunderland full-backs easily double marked both of Pompey’s wingers in the 1st leg, so more overlapping runs from the full-backs will create more chances on the flanks.

These overlapping runs, usually from Lee Brown and Nathan Thompson, also allow Pompey to overload the penalty area.

Gareth Evans and Ben Close have scored many goals sitting deeper near or inside the penalty area, often unmarked as the opposition defenders already have their hands full.

Pompey missed this attacking movement in the 1st leg due to the lack of control in midfield.

Controlling possession in midfield

The performances from Tom Naylor and Ben Close define how Portsmouth play going forward. If both players lose control in midfield, the striker is left isolated and Pompey’s direct passing leads becomes aimless.

In the 1st leg, the passing from the midfield was poor, gifting Sunderland possession and keeping Portsmouth on the back foot.

When Pompey control possession in midfield, their attacking movement stretches the opposition defence, allowing for overlapping runs to support the wingers and direct passes to the front three.

Fast, mobile forwards such as Lowe and Curtis thrive on these direct passes and can cause problems for immobile centre-backs such as Alim Ozturk.

In addition to the central midfielders, Christian Burgess and Matt Clarke will be relied upon to maintain any control possession, which leads to more chances being created.

Defensive Transition

One of the greatest strengths of both Clarke and Burgess is that they are both comfortable in possession and creating forward passes.

This strength seemed absent in the 1st leg. Pompey’s wayward passing, especially from the defence, stifled any forward momentum from the attacking players.

Pompey can hurt Sunderland either by short passing to create gaps in midfield or direct passes to the striker or wingers to bypass the midfield. Neither of these methods were successful in the 1st leg.

Versatility is a strength for Pompey going forwards, but this entirely relies on the build-up play from the defence.

These transitions from the back-four allow for Pompey to control possession in midfield and for overlapping runs on both flanks.

As we have already seen from the previous four matches against Sunderland, they are vulnerable defensively.

The Blues attacking play needs to match their defensive solidity. If this happens, the Fratton faithful will enjoy another trip to Wembley.

Freddie Webb 

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