Pompey’s QPR win: A catalyst for a successful season? Or papering over the cracks?

After experiencing a chastening evening like last week’s home match at Coventry, it is often said that a football team wants a swift return to the playing field to right the wrongs of a previous timid performance.

On the contrary, the break seemed to do the boys in blue (or purple) some good, with a much more assured and disciplined display from Pompey, leading to a 2-0 away win over Championship opposition and their first win at Loftus Road since 1961.

The strong win was vintage Jackett, defensively responsible, with incisive counter attacking play providing the difference. Therefore, the main takeaway from last night’s performance is hugely positive, a significant confidence boost delivered from a cup run that has seen Pompey dispatch two Championship level teams, with both results supported by clean sheets, and a run that has been made all the more worthwhile with the arch rivals awaiting in the third round.

As Pompey travel to Blackpool on Saturday, travelling fans will hope that the result is not a flash in the pan and will provide the catalyst to a season that has seen an indifferent start from the Blues thus far.

But how realistic can this catalyst be? Some will reflect, that great result aside, the much-improved performance still demonstrated signs of frailty.

Perhaps as expected, QPR arguably enjoyed the better of the first half and up until the hour mark at least, enjoyed the better of the chances. Spells of R’s dominance were often a result of Pompey’s vulnerabilities down the flanks, with both full back positions left exposed by positional inexperience and a lack of match sharpness.

This vulnerability was possibly exacerbated by Kenny Jackett’s new look back four, with Christian Burgess slotting in at right back and midfield-ever-present Tom Naylor reprising a role he played during pre-season at centre back.

The match result proved that the defensive tinkering was effective, but as a long-term defensive solution the make-up of the quartet does raise questions on it’s validity.

On the positive side, Burgess provided what was needed for the game, an assured, no nonsense approach and a discipline that was sorely missed against Coventry, a trait not often attributed to Pompey’s experienced centre-half.

However, unsurprisingly, Burgess showed the hallmarks of a centre-back playing out of position, with occasional lack of positional awareness and a lack of confidence to drive forward down the right-hand side to support an attack.

Similarly, on the left-hand side, Haunstrup was not without his moments, but grew into the game as it progressed and provided a reliable presence that is growing with maturity.

To look deeper into this, these vulnerabilities are not solely attributed to the personnel in the full-back positions. The relationships between full-back and winger, full-back and centre-back, don’t illustrate the confidence of a well-oiled defensive unit.

Curtis and Harness, although starting to provide a sharpness and intensity going forward, still have work to do in terms of providing the defensive coverage that the team needs when on the retreat.

Attacking wise, again although improved, Pompey demonstrated an approach that was engineered to counter and to seize their opportunities when presented.

There were familiar cries of frustration from the fans, as a lack of willingness to keep the ball to feet and a preference for the aerial route dominated proceedings.

When the ball was kept on the ground, the make-up of the midfield, looked much more encouraging, with Close and McCrorie providing a much more proactive and energised platform for the team to begin to attack.

Moving forward, it is combinations like McCrorie and Close that have to be encouraged as they will translate well to the often attritional midfield battles of League One.

Attacking tactics deployed at QPR, are arguably limited in a League One context as few teams will look to dominate and dictate the play against Pompey as readily as Championship opposition.

If faced with the familiar site of an opposition with 11 behind the ball, Portsmouth must look to move away from the long ball tactics and have the confidence to dominate games with the creative players at their disposal.

Nothing should be taken away from last night’s success, it was a terrific performance where the club bettered QPR on the pitch and in the stands. However, as Pompey return on Saturday to League One, it will be interesting to see how they transition from underdog to favourite and whether their improvement can translate to this dynamic.

Henry Adams

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