Like many Pompey fans, I awoke on Wednesday morning to internal reflections of ‘Nah, that didn’t happen… 20 minutes to go 3-1 up, Coventry down to 10 men, and then.. 3-2, 10 minutes to go, Coventry down to 9 men…. In the bag, right?’ No, apologies, 90 minutes, 3-3, 2 points thrown away…. But come on, if you’re reading this, you’re a Pompey fan, it’s just another day in the life… what did you expect?
Familiar exasperated reflections aside, last night’s performance was seriously concerning for the would-be promotion contenders. Despite going 3-1 up and having a numerical advantage in personnel, Portsmouth were a team in retreat for much of the second half, with the match as a whole demonstrating defensive frailties that plagued the blues from Coventry’s early counter-attacking raid in the third minute.
These frailties were seemingly compounded by a manager with a lack of willingness to change approach, and when he made his long-awaited move, it was negative and reactive, with Christian Burgess brought on to form a back five. After such an obvious display of back peddling from the manager, a fan will wonder how this negativity translates to the players on the pitch?
Moving forward, the Pompey faithful will ponder how long term these defensive frailties may become. From my view in the South stand, the base of the issues seemed to stem from the significant changes to defensive personnel that have occurred over the summer.
This upheaval was emphasised when one of Jackett’s experienced leftenant, Lee Brown, struggled off injured at the half hour mark, leaving Pompey with not a single defender on the pitch who finished last season’s campaign.
Tuesday night’s four compiled of a makeshift right-back, a centre-back on his full Pompey league debut, a left-back without regular football and Paul Downing who has not held down a regular centre-back berth in his career to date.
Now experience is not a precursor to success, look at Jack Whatmough and Matt Clarke, but the lack of familiarity, the lack of communication and leadership was evident in a game where Portsmouth defenders were getting in each other’s way, and were moving the ball with no evident showing of confidence.
An absence that permeated into the midfield, with Ben Close and Tom Naylor struggling to exert influence on a fragmented and frantic game.
How to fix this, is a question perhaps for someone more football educated than I, but building leadership and communication are things that in any walk of life, will take time to develop.
The speed of development is often hard to quantify, the lower echelons of the football league are littered with litanies of young players seizing their chance and growing into established footballers in a matter of months (see Matt Clarke, Adam Webster, Joel Ward), so here’s hoping that the likes of Brandon Haunstrup, Sean Raggett and others follow that journey!
Whilst that development continues, more dynamism, and one could even go as far to suggest leadership, needs to come from the dugout.
At 3-1, with the game there for the taking, and Ellis Harrison, Brett Pitman and Andy Cannon all sat ready and waiting, the manager has to sieze the opportunity, stretch the pitch and kill the game off, rather than the retrograde steps that he took to see out the match.
A more proactive approach may be what’s needed to inspire this young side and to move their development at pace.
With the season only four games old, there is still plenty of time for Jackett and co. to put things right and to build the foundations of a winning team.
However, the massive holes left by the departing Matt Clarke and Nathan Thompson, is reinforced not only by their significant quality, but their leadership and communication on the pitch.
This absence is compounded by the need for new arrivals to gel with their teammates, some of which are still trying to establish themselves in the first XI from a defensive point of view.
Therefore, as the weeks and months progress, it would not be a surprise if the Wednesday morning hangover of exasperated disappointment may become a feeling that’s all too familiar as the season progresses.
Photo: Heather Wild