Stevenage 3 Portsmouth 3: An omen for the future if tactics on and off the pitch don’t change

By Freddie Webb

Portsmouth did little to stave off the pre-season fan criticism after narrowly avoiding embarrassment against Stevenage.

Even though the players showed great character to reverse a 3-1 deficit, and are in the next round of the League Cup, all the focus is on the embarrassing defensive performance.

Rightly so, weakness of this back-four was shown in the first half.

The Downing and Raggett centre-half pairing struggled when pressed by Stevenage forwards, and were at times unable to play the ball out from the back, leading to the inevitable and much-maligned aimless long ball.

This happened numerous times.

Here, Downing collects the ball and is offered very little options short despite not being pressed by the Stevenage striker.

Even though he could pass back to Bass, or Raggett to his left, he elects to punt it long, promptly giving up possession.

The lack of movement off the ball was expected at first, given it is the first competitive game of the season, but it was obvious to that longballs to the flanks was the game-plan initially, even after conceding the first two goals.

On the left-hand side, Ronan Curtis receives the ball but is isolated.

He links-up nicely with Morris, who recycles possession back to the back-four, where the ball can be played through the middle to Morris or to James Bolton on the right.

You can guess what happens next.

The ball is played long to Curtis, who is already marked by the Stevenage full-back, and possession is again gifted to the opposition.

It is not as if Portsmouth were pressured on the ball in the first 20 minutes.

After Ronan Curtis’ driven finish to make it 2-1, the Blues had 61% possession and Stevenage had an average PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action) of roughly 14.3.

Pompey were allowed time in possession, but were obsessed with playing the ball too quickly, a lesson which has not been learnt from the dismal playoff series against Oxford.

This tactical decision simply does not suit the forwards Pompey have, with Curtis’ goal being created by exactly the opposite style of play.

Marcus Harness collects the ball in the final third, with two Stevenage players pressing him.

He passes back to Sean Raggett, who has been given plenty of time and space.

Instead of the expected long-ball to John Marquis of the right wing, he plays an incisive pass to Lee Brown, who splits the defence with a through-ball to Ronan Curtis for his first goal of the season.

This is the most frustrating thing about Pompey’s style of play.

The players can play sharp attacking football with purpose, but either by their mentality or Kenny Jackett’s tactics (you decide which), their creativity can be anaemic at times.

I’m not against a direct style of football, but when the long passes are aimless and clearly being read by the opposition, it simply does not work.

At times, a direct pass is the best option and causes havoc for opposition defences.

Bryn Morris has the right idea here, playing a long ball to the already sprinting Curtis, who has the beating of his fullback.

Although Curtis didn’t create a chance from the pass, it shows how the midfield can utilise the pace of their wingers with a channel pass.

Despite the cloud of negativity, the 2nd half highlighted some positives.

The build-up play was much better; the back-four was more assured and less wasteful in possession.

This was largely helped by Bryn Morris, who dropped deeper and became the link between the defenders and forwards.

John Marquis scored an excellent goal from a quick, five pass combination through the middle of the pitch, imagine that.

The first competitive game of the season was not all bad.

With the right bounces, Pompey could have easily won the game in the 2nd half, and Craig MacGillivray’s imperious performance looks to have earned him back the no. 1 shirt.

With the right ideas on and off the pitch, Pompey can compete for promotion this season.

But the criticism towards the club is justified: not just a social media tirade.

Some of the Pompey defending at the Lamex Stadium was the worst I’ve seen in 15 years of supporting the club.

The back four simply needs help, tactically and through transfers.

Otherwise, Pompey already look far from the promotion candidates the board expect them to be.

Lessons need to be learnt on the pitch.

Even though this was a pretty inconsequential Carabao Cup tie, it shows the holes and bright spots in Kenny Jackett’s set up.

If nothing changes – on and off the pitch – the cloud of negativity will remain over the club and the Blues will have a long, mediocre season ahead of them.

Photo: Jason Brown

Screen shots: Wyscout

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