Signing Clark Robertson from Rotherham fits Danny Cowley’s new positive Pompey

By Freddie Webb

Pompey are undergoing one their biggest squad overhauls since 2015, and Clark Robertson is the first major signing of the summer.

Danny Cowley’s footballing philosophy relies on centre-backs who are comfortable in possession and have a good range of passing, while also being defensively sound.

Portsmouth’s most successful defenders in recent history – Matt Clarke, Adam Webster and Christian Burgess to name a few – all had this ability to play the ball out from the back in multiple ways, and could drive play forwards and support the midfield.

These types of defenders offer excellent balance to any team that wants to control possession.

The 27 year-old Robertson arrives on a free transfer from Rotherham with League One promotion and Championship experience, and on paper, fits the new attacking style of football – which emphasises controlling possession and quick attacking transitions through the midfield.

Cowley has already highlighted the Scotsman’s composure on the ball, and his analytics support that notion.

Robertson’s most positive metric is his accurate progressive passes, passes which significantly moves the play further up the pitch depending on where the pass was made.

When compared to the Blues’ most recent options, Robertson’s 74.73% accuracy is the highest, even surpassing Jack Whatmough, a percentage which was the 12th highest in the Championship last season.

Robertson also averages 6.44 passes to the final third per 90 – similar to Swansea’s Kyle Naughton and Ben Cabango – with a 56.58% success rate, regularly looking to advance play quickly.

Having a defender with an accurate range of passing can shed a huge burden off the midfield.

Pompey have all too often failed to control matches and create chances through the back-fours incapability to play the ball out on the floor when the midfield has been overrun, leading to aimless direct passing.

Robertson adds much needed balance to the defensive unit through being a left-sided centre-back on his strong foot, and contributing to several defensive areas.

He doesn’t get involved in ground tackles as much as I would like, but he’s as competitive in aerial battles as Sean Raggett, while being more composed in possession.

Aerial duels will matter against certain opposition, and with Pompey losing Tom Naylor, who was relied upon to win those aerial battles in defensive areas, Pompey needed another reliable player to win those first balls.

Robertson’s low success rate could be due to Rotherham often being overrun in a Championship environment, or not being match sharp due to significant spells on the side-lines.

But even though the ex-Millers defender didn’t win the ball often enough, he was positionally sound and stopped attacks that way.

Robertson was the fifth highest in the Championship for possession adjusted interceptions, averaging 9.61 per 90 (from players who made 10 appearances or more).

Being in the right place at the right time is vital for a defender.

You don’t need to challenge a player in possession if you cut out the pass to them beforehand, and Robertson was adept at that. There are some concerns to be had stats wise.

His defensive duels success rate was the second lowest in the Championship, and his overall pass accuracy – 67.8% – was the fifth lowest.

Playing for a relegation side could have been a factor, but if not, Robertson may need to be covered by his teammates defensively when the opposition play through the midfield.

But considering his range of passing and positional awareness, the Scotsman is a round peg in a round hole for Cowley’s back-four, although there is an elephant in the room which needs mentioning, injuries.

Robertson has been plagued by medical set-backs the last two years.

In early 2020, the defender had to have stomach surgery after playing through pain and injections, and then later broke his foot during the rehabilitation process.

He had another operation in the same foot later in the year after an innocuous challenge, and also tore his hamstring in March 2021.

It was a luckless run that probably cost him a Rotherham extension, but given his skillset, signing him to a two-year-deal is a gamble worth taking.

Cowley is obviously aware of the injury history, and according to BBC Radio Solent’s Andrew Moon, has already meticulously planned Robertson’s pre-season and outlined to him how he’ll be utilised on the pitch.

In my opinion, his signing is a positive one that fits the mold of Danny Cowley’s new Portsmouth FC, but Pompey do need to add more centre-half options this summer.

It’ll be a big ask to throw Robertson straight into the starting XI after he’s only made 38 appearances in two seasons, and with James Bolton being sold to Plymouth, the Blues have even less cover.

I won’t be worried about the injury history as long as he’s managed properly and there are adequate replacements.

A calm and composed ball-playing centre-back is hard to find at League One level, and Robertson fits that tag despite some trepidations.

Featured picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

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