Portsmouth half season player grades: the best and worst players at the club so far

By Freddie Webb

Pompey are now halfway through the season and January is always the time when fans love to speculate the best and worst players at the club.

Half a season is a large enough sample size to judge each player’s ability and contribution to the season so far.

I have gone through the season so far in depth and if the Blues are likely to make promotion already, but in summary, Portsmouth can still get promoted with some caveats.

Kenny Jackett needs to go all in on the pressing 4-4-2 system, use the depth of the squad and the extra substitutions to maintain a high-tempo brand of football and the key players need to continue producing to have a chance at the top two.

The margins for error are so small that some fans are overly critical of the players when things do not always go their way.

I’ve analysed each players performance so far this season and will be grading each of them and the team as a whole.

Tom Naylor A+  

Integral to the side’s midfield structure, dressing room and defensive shape, Tom Naylor has been the biggest stand out performer all season.

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He is essential to how this side players, covering so much ground defensively to allow for his teammates to run into space and create chances.

His aerial duels stats of 68.93% success and 4.21 per 90 is the 2nd best in the league and defines how often he wins back the ball and recycles play to the front-four. He leads by example and is an excellent example to the players as a captain.

Craig MacGillivray A

The Scotsman has never looked back after retaking the number one job against Stevenage. Pompey only conceding 20 league goals this season is largely down to MacGillivray making more saves than expected.

He has the highest goals prevented stat in the league of 7.52– xG vs goal conceded – regularly making key saves every match. Arguably, he is the best goalkeeper in the league looking at the statistics.

Sometimes he has not marshalled the defence as well as he could have done but it is clear without MacGillivray, the Blues would not be the defensive powerhouse they are claimed to be.

John Marquis A

Marquis looks unrecognisable from his first season of trials and tribulations. The increased use of the 4-4-2 and a high pressing game has utilised his undeniable work rate while creating enough clear-cut chances for him to score goals.

His 15 goal contributions (goals & assists) are the highest in the league alongside Peterborough’s Johnson Clarke-Harris, proving he is more than a goal poacher and can work as part of an attacking unit. Surpassing last season’s goal totals already, Marquis has so much more to give to this side.

Andy Cannon B+  

Pundits who lazily just look at goal and assist numbers have no idea how good Cannon actually is.

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His pressing is contagious and his ability to win the ball back regularly allows for the counter-attacks and opposition mistakes Pompey regularly score from, while also giving licence to the fullbacks to support the front-four without leaving gaps.

Yes, his production is behind many of the best playmakers in the league but two assists given his deployment is a reasonable return and his partnership with Naylor continues to blossom.

Lee Brown B+

He’s an often-maligned character at Fratton Park but Lee Brown is having his best season in a Pompey shirt.

Alongside his notable defensive upside, he’s improved considerably at supporting his partner on the left-wing and adding some creativity to the side.

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With two assists and an xA of 3.36, Brown is in the top contributors attacking wise for left-backs in the league. The criticism of him should die down if he continues these performances.

Marcus Harness B+

Harness is a very technical player who is growing into his role alongside Marquis or on the wing.

Four goals and five assists are a great return and puts him alongside the most productive wingers in the division.

Sometimes he goes missing in games and his ability to win the ball back consistently is a worry, but his creativity more than makes up for those deficiencies, especially if he is alongside Marquis in the front four.

Ronan Curtis B+

In a similar vain to Harness, Ronan Curtis has had a great but streaky start to the season. Four goals and four assists, with an xG of 5.09, puts the Irishman alongside the Leagues most talented wingers such as Peterborough’s Siriki Dembele and Hull City’s Keane Lewis-Potter.

Curtis has also had to battle with injuries and Covd-19, not retaining a starting place and has been inconsistent at times. But what we have seen from his time at Fratton Park, Curtis has the drive and determination to improve his consistency, return and be a force again on the left-wing.

Jack Whatmough B

I’m still amazed by Whatmough’s talent and determination despite all the injuries he has suffered.

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The back-four requires his ability to play the ball out and link with the midfield. Making 12.55 progressive passes per 90, Whatmough is key to Pompey’s success and they will struggle without him over the next three games. The B grade is largely down to individual errors in key games.

Sean Raggett B

Raggett is a limited centre-back but is extremely effective at what he does. Man-marking and aerial duels are his strong point and he is incredibly useful especially lining up against the many physical teams in League One.

Averaging 9.26 aerial duels per 90 with a success rate of 68.42, the Gillingham born centre-back is a handful for most strikers.

He is still prone to individual errors with positioning and passing and needs an accomplished defender alongside him, but so far, Raggett adds more to this side than he takes away.

Callum Johnson B

The low transfer fee of £200k looks more and more like a steal every day. Johnson has come straight into the back-four and looked solid ever since.

He supports his partner on the wing effectively as well as being defensively responsible most of the time in one-on-one situations.

He has trouble positionally and losing his man sometimes but that can be ironed out with more game time.

Ryan Williams B

The Aussie’s resurgence has been one of the most notable stories of the season so far. Already surpassing last campaigns production with three goals, three assists and a 3.09 xG ratio is excellent and he has proven his utility as a striker, midfielder or winger.

His dribbling is very dangerous but he still loses the ball often and his crossing is inconsistent. Three assists from 1.05 xA is a big margin and is unlikely to continue as the season progresses unless he creates higher quality chances.

Rasmus Nicolaisen C+

Moving to an entirely new country and division while expecting to live up to your potential was always going to be difficult for the Dane.

Nicolaisen has struggled with communication especially, making a number of errors when he gets the chance to play.

In spite of this, his ball-playing talent is obvious when you watch him, and with more time to improve his defensive communication and become more accustomed to English football, he will be a capable third centre-back. The next three games are the test to see whether he sinks or swims.

Michael Jacobs C+

Jacobs came to Fratton Park with an impressive Championship CV and pedigree. Injuries have definitely derailed his impact so far, but he has proven useful in the few minutes he has played.

One goal and two assists from only 687 minutes is credible and makes him the perfect player to fill in on either wing if other players struggle.

Alex Bass C

After a disastrous first game against Stevenage which lost him the starting spot, Bass has proven he’s a great prospect for Pompey despite not being a starter.

His cup appearances were solid and proves he is still an excellent prospect Pompey can use. Although, a fractured lower leg in training is a massive blow to his development and hopefully it does not set him back too much.

Haji Mnoga C

For a player who is playing his first senior games for Portsmouth at just 18 years-old, Mnoga is definitely a player to look out for in the future.

His physical strength and dribbling-ability can cause a lot of problems for the opposition and his mindset not to shy away from a strong challenge will definitely make him a fan favourite in the future.

His defensive awareness and positioning definitely needs improvement but being a useful substitute and not taking up a squad slot is a bonus for Portsmouth.

Jordy Hiwula C

I have covered Hiwula in depth already, but in short, he needs more game time.

His style of play works wonders if Kenny Jackett decides to use the 4-4-2 formation and would be an excellent sub to use in a counter-attacking style of play.

His grade was given for earning himself a contract extension and for being an effective depth option.

Ellis Harrison C

Speaking of depth options, Harrison has proven useful whenever he comes on for Pompey.

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He is not proving to be prolific striker, with Harness, Williams and Hiwula being better choices in my opinion, but he has not performed badly when he had played and will be useful for Pompey when they play against physical teams.

Ben Close D

I hate the grade I gave for Close but it is entirely justified. He has simply not performed to the level fans expect out of him.

I know his game time has diminished, but in the few appearances he has made, he has made little impact and does not drive the midfield play. Hopefully he turns his game around, but I am not surprised that he is down the pecking order in midfield.

James Bolton F

A fullback who is pretty ineffective going forward and his defensive stats do not make up for his deficiencies.

Even though he played ok in the few cup appearances he has made, Pompey should be looking to move him as he does not fit the system the club plays.

Paul Downing F

A player devoid of confidence and ability. Due to the hamstring injury he picked up in the EFL Trophy, he is unlikely to move this transfer window and still has another year left on his contract.

Being limited to cup games is not the career I thought he would have at Fratton Park. The relationship between him and the club is broken, and I hope for his career he finds another home.

Bryn Morris F

Morris has gone from starting both games in the playoffs against Oxford United to being loaned out to Northampton Town, I don’t need to say anymore.

Overall Grade B

Considering the start and the overwhelming cynicism fans had about the season beforehand, Portsmouth is in a reasonable position.

Kenny Jackett adapted his formation, allowing for the Blues’ to get the most out of their top players.

That change had to happen to have any chance of being in the automatic promotion hunt, which they can still achieve.

Main photo: Losing My Sight UK

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