Opposition report: What Portsmouth have to do to beat Accrington Stanley and make the League One play-offs

By Freddie Webb

It’s all or nothing for Pompey on Saturday when they face Accrington Stanley.

Either the Blues have the chance at play-off glory with a new regime, or their patchy season comes to an end with one final disappointment.

Last time out against Accy, a heart-breaking John Marquis own-goal undid a tenacious performance which had the Fratton faithful on the edge of their computer chairs.

Now, even more is on the line, as a win guarantees sixth place in League One.

John Colman’s men exploited Pompey with direct passing last time out, and they have a number of attacking weapons to latch onto those long balls.

Dion Charles is the obvious candidate, a predatory striker who scores most of his goals from being in the right place at the right time.

His 19 goals and three assists in the League are a testament to that talent.

The Northern Irish forward also converts harder chances than most others, outperforming his 16.96 xG by just over two goals – largely due to excellent close control to bring the ball out of his feet.

Charles requires space to shoot and excellent service, which Accy provides in spades from so many sources.

Strike partner Colby Bishop provides the space, acting as the target-man and foil for Charles’ chances.

The 24-year-old is no slouch in front of goal either, netting 10 goals and five assists in the League from 40 games.

Bishop has underperformed his xG of 12.85, but he still offers another option for his midfield teammates to supply with crosses, which is bullet header against Pompey shows.

With a well-balanced front two, John Colman has a great pairing to supply with long balls.

Accrington average the most long passes in League One per match, 62.04 per 90.

Wide players punt the ball into space for their attackers to run onto, or play direct balls through the middle to catch out defenders.

Bishop’s goal and a whole host of other chances against the Blues came from these passes.

Here Joe Pritchard lays the ball off to Sean McConville instead of attacking the space.

McConville sends a floated cross to the back post, which Paul Smyth knocks back across the Pompey back-four.

Craig McGillivray fumbles the pass and centre-back Michael Nottingham hits the bar, all from one back-post cross.

Two of the four players mentioned are Accrington’s most creative assets, Pritchard and McConville, both versatile to either of John Colman’s formations.

If Accrington play with a back-three, both of them can play at left-wingback or in the midfield three.

Accrington’s starting XI against Pompey.

Otherwise, Pritchard or McConville will play as the left-centre midfield, or the attacking-midfielder in a 4-3-1-2 formation.

Accrington’s starting XI against Charlton Athletic – 01/05/21.

These formations allow for both players to have the space to be their main creative outlet.

Pritchard has the most assists for Accrington with seven from an xA of 5.26, whole also scoring nine goals from an xG of 6.04.

His return from injury is a major threat to Pompey’s playoff ambitions and he needs to be marked tightly to limit his creativity.

McConville offers a similar threat, creating six assists from an xA of 7.24.

Unlike Pritchard, the 32-year-old is prone to going missing when challenged heavily, so a rough but fair tackle early on may neutralise his passing.

The good news for Pompey is all of Accrington’s major threats are in the forward areas.

Defensively, the opposition are vulnerable to counter-attacks with pace and to crosses.

Ronan Curtis, Ryan Williams and Marcus Harness all need to attack the Accy fullbacks to create gaps in the defence, and play accurate passes into space.

To prevent too many chances from being given away, Pompey’s defenders have to block off the flanks and close down the opposition midfielders.

This will give midfielders like Pritchard and McConville less time on the ball to make accurate passes, and with no service to the strikers, Bishop and Charles will be neutralised.

If these crosses are allowed to happen, centre-backs such as Sean Raggett have to be defensively aware enough to deal with the numerous aerial challenges.

It’s all in Pompey’s hands on Saturday and only a win will be sufficient.

One more win is needed for the Blues to keep their promotion dreams alive.

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