A Paul Downing resurgence is one of the surprises of the season, and adds much needed depth to Pompey’s defence.
The centre-backs time at Fratton Park has been largely disappointing after signing from Blackburn Rovers.
He has demonstrated rare glimpses of being an assured defender, but has given up glorious chances to the opposition all too often – having long stints away from first-team contention as a result.
So, when Downing was substituted on for Callum Johnson at Accrington Stanley, I – amongst many Pompey fans – was left bemused at Danny Cowley’s decision.
To my amazement, the previously exiled defender had a largely successful 35-minute cameo, and staked a claim to a centre-back spot.
Heroic blocks, towering headers and vital touches are all skills quality centre halves need, and Downing demonstrated all of these traits.
AFC Wimbledon 1 Portsmouth 3 – Downing’s individual peformance
After the heartbreaking result at the Wham Stadium, Downing was given a maiden start under Danny Cowley against an in-form AFC Wimbledon side.
Brown deservedly, amongst other players, soaked up the bulk of the plaudits and they are warranted, but an unsung hero, in what it slowly becoming a renaissance was Paul Downing.
The forgotten man now had a spark lit under him, and it was clear Downing was out to prove a point.
Pompey’s defence was under intense pressure in the first-half, as the Dons won the key tackles and controlled possession.
Although Joe Pigott put the opposition in front with a dubious goal, the former Doncaster defender looked far from rusty.
In the ninth minute, Nesta Guiness-Walker attempted to chip a weighted ball into Jack Rudoni’s path, but this was instead met by a tenacious Downing, who won the ball and recycled possession.
Paul Downing won a further five defensive duels throughout the game and won the ball back 67% of the time.
It was clear that the previously banished defender is not afraid to get stuck in and win possession.
He was also effective at dealing with Wimbledon’s crosses into Pompey’s penalty area.
Earlier in the match, Alex Woodyard mounted an attack down the right channel, delivering a threatening cross into the
Blues penalty box – yet it was met equally by a towering Downing.
The former Blackburn man’s heading capabilites were tested a further nine times, with Downing winning 80% of these duels.
Downing fairs well against all of his fellow centre halves in terms of total number of duels, with his being the second highest – behind Nicolaisen slightly with 21.22 – but his success rate of 76% is a clear victor by a whopping 13.1%.
Delving further into duels, Downing’s 10 duels with 80% success rate is the highest number, but more impressively, is 23.5% better than his closest teammate, Sean Ragget, who achieves 67.5% per 90.
Furthermore, in terms of defensive duels, Downing’s net sum of 6 is the most, by his success rate of 67% ranks third, behind Nicolaisen’s 69.7% and Raggett’s 71.9%.
Two out of three is not too shabby for a man who has largely been isolated under the previous management.
Obviously, the data from his teammates is more reliable due to the larger sample size.
I’m not saying he is a better defender, but he is a far cry from being put in the bomb squad and forgotten about.
He makes less interceptions per match than his teammates, but he recovers possession more often.
Downing dwarfs his teammates, with his 22 recoveries of possesion having a landslide 8.05 additional ROP, compared to Nicolaisen’s 13.95 per match.
As mentioned previously, Downing’s passing ability against the Dons was excellent, but when you compare them to his teammates, they are ludacris.
To begin with, forward pass accuracy per match or FPA, has Raggett with 67.5%, Whatmough with 69.2% and Nicolaisen with 71.6% – a whole 3.4% behind Downing’s 74%.
Pompey’s best players over the past few seasons have been their ball-playing centre-backs, who are necessary for the Cowley’s footballing philosophy.
To make the most out of possession, you need defenders who are comfortable on the ball.
Downing is not as skillful as Whatmough on the ball, but he has the passing capability to replace him in a pinch.
Overall, the data does demonstrate that Downing has rehabilitated and is competing with his fellow centre halves.
Does Paul Downing’s form give Danny Cowley a selection headache?
Danny Cowley will have the luxury of four available centre halves on Sunday against Accrington, with every man and his dog knowing the permutations of the result, which are that simply, if Pompey win, they WILL be in the League One Play Offs this season.
I said luxury, but I really meant selection headache.
With Whatmough back from suspension and Downing performing extremley well, it will be interesting to see who is selected to play alongside Sean Ragget, typically the left centre halve.
Regardless, Sunday will be a day to remember for all Pompey fans, as it is the final match of the normal season, but here’s hoping the Blues will have at least another three further matches.
Photo: Jason Brown