Why Pompey Can Still Deliver Promotion

After 5 league games Pompey sit on a sub-average 5 points. Two losses, two draws and a solitary victory is a glaring disparity from the blistering pace Jackett’s men established at the start of last season: should we be shocked that Kenny’s newly formed side hasn’t hit the ground running?

A flurry of new additions, injuries and losing the best defender in League One (and, arguably, the Championship), is always going to cause commotion in the otherwise settled squad of last term. So, is the early condemnation of Jackett, his team and its potential justified? I would argue not.

Firstly, regarding transfers, this summer saw Pompey spend significant money for the first time since the 2011/12 season. The signings of John Marquis for an undisclosed fee of around 2 million, Marcus Harness for around 1 million and Ellis Harrison for 750k (and associated increased wages) may firmly quash the assumptions from some fans around the owner’s intentions.

It is difficult to doubt that, with these quality additions, promotion was the aim from the outset of the season. Having seen all the new signings play, new talent is evident, particularly in attacking areas.

Harness looks a player on par with Jamal Lowe and a real find at this level. John Marquis has proven his goalscoring prowess for the last 3 seasons and is a significant upgrade in the striking department compared to last season.

The acquisition of Ross McCrorie in the midfield has a likening to Ben Thompson from last season and he will surely improve. For many, the issues that are causing the criticism of Jackett lie in our defence, but is it justified?

Apart from a ridiculous few moments against Coventry and a set-piece slip up against Sunderland, if we consider the massive reshuffle and many new faces in the back line, has it really been that dire?

QPR in the League cup saw an extremely accomplished defensive performance, as did the majority of the away trip to Blackpool who applied a lot of pressure to the back line at times.

The injury to James Bolton during pre-season did not aid Jackett in his quest to find a consistent back four, with the former Shrewsbury man now returning to look a solid option at right back against Crawley in the EFL trophy.

Considering only 5 games have been played it may not be totally unreasonable that Kenny hasn’t yet finalised his strongest side.

Moving on to performances so far. Jackett’s style may not be for the footballing purist, but I, for one, have seen a slightly more cultured side to Pompey’s play this season, especially in their quest to play out from the back; last season such tactics were a freak occurrence.

The Crawley game (I know it was the EFL Trophy but bear with me) saw some neat and tidy football being played with the long ball turning out more sporadically. Jackett’s football, clearly, isn’t for everyone, but it is effective and that cannot be argued given Pompey’s win rate since the Welshman came to the club; Pompey’s highest since 1904.

The critics must decide whether they want exciting football (even in the Paul Cook days, people moaned about not being direct enough) which may not provide results, or our current methods which have provided relatively positive results over the last couple of seasons.

The fact that we are only 5 games into the league season must be noted because a run of one win in five at any other time in the season would probably not merit a sacking of a manager. This is especially so for a manager who has provided record breaking results for most of his tenure. I appreciate that many fans have pointed out that this early season struggle is a continuation from the end of last season, where it is fair to say, Pompey barely limped over the line.

It should be highlighted, however, that this was just after going on a club record winning run. The conclusion of a long season may also well have had influenced Jackett’s men with a consistent core of the side regularly featuring week in week out for the majority of the season.

The extensive transition that has taken place over the summer sees a side that accommodates 5/6 new faces. This side is very different to the side that finished the end of last season, and to link the drop-in form between two relatively different sides may not be reasonable.

The issue around captaincy has caused some angst amongst Fratton faithful. Tom Naylor, for many, is the right man for the role considering his continuous presence in the Blue’s line up.

Lee Brown is also clearly respected by many at the club and it is known for possessing leadership qualities through his time at Pompey and from those who spoke highly of him before he departed Bristol Rovers.

The argument around the captaincy issue may be more to do with the timing of Brett Pitman and Gareth Evans being relieved of their duties.

To begin, neither have been ever-present in Jackett’s main eleven so a change was necessary. However, in regard to Pitman, fans must remember that the signing of John Marquis was very late in the transfer window.

If, arguably, the best striker in the league for the last 3 seasons hadn’t put pen to paper there is an extremely strong case for suggesting that Pitman would be a lot closer to the starting eleven than now.

In the event can we blame Jackett for feeling it better if his second, or maybe even third, choice striker shouldn’t’t captain his team?

Another pressing issue that has been an early talking point is the lack of a top-quality number 10. From first impressions, it may look like Pompey lack a creative spark in this position and that may be true.

However, it may be important to note that this is not how a Kenny Jackett side works. In his sides the number 10 is a position that presses high and provides energy just behind the striker but also helps the midfield out.

Playing a luxury (more creative) player in that position, Louis Dennis for example, is a detriment to the system. Whilst I would also appreciate a creative spark in that position the fact that Pompey scored the second most goals in England last season remains difficult to ignore.

I can, therefore, live with the current system. Jackett’s set up relies on quality wing play and aggressive runs being made forward. A ‘hardworking’ number 10 is essential to this system.

Andy Cannon looks a good fit with what seems like good technical ability, extremely high work rate and a good shot. Creativity is not a massive priority for Kenny’s system and it’s an issue that Pompey fans may have to deal with as it’s an integral feature of Kenny Jacketts’ vision.

Finally, the perplexing examination of competence that some are placing upon Jackett and his troops, merely five games into the season, may want to take into consideration other managerial options available at present.

Even if available, the Cowley brothers have a brand of football not dissimilar to Jackett’s. The ever-present name of Gary Monk has achieved nothing in his managerial career, despite continuously getting championship jobs; Sheffield Wednesday recently appointing the former Swansea man.

These names, for me, are not an upgrade on Jackett and even if fans want rid of the Welshman it’s doubtful there exists a lower league ‘Pep’, ready to inject an exciting brand of football into this squad.

To conclude, perhaps expectations from last year’s fantastic start to the season have actually hindered Pompey ‘optimism’ and clouded some initial judgements.

In reality we may be looking at an excellent transfer window, a side in transition, a style of play that is proven to be effective and an ownership that are fully supporting /trusting their chosen manager.

In addition, our squad now features some of the best talent in this league. There may be absolutely no reason why promotion cannot be achieved. If we win our two games in hand along with our trip to league leaders, Wycombe, we would be one just point behind the Chairboy’s who currently sit nicely at the top of the league. Realistically we are a long way from playing catch-up.  

Sam Stone

Photo: Portsmouth FC

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