Pompey v Cambridge United Preview

By Sam Stone

Saturday’s predictable MK Dons disappointment yet again highlighted that Pompey’s failure to land a competent striker in the dying hours of the transfer window could turn out to be a fatal blow in this season’s promotion pursuit.

As predicted MK Dons created plenty of chances, as they do against pretty much every team in this League. Gavin Bazunu was, yet again, in immaculate form, and Pompey’s defence and midfield structure held firm to keep the creative MK at arm’s length.

However, as the Blues began to gain a foothold in the second half, the lack of a quality final ball and clinical marksman ultimately led to the Blues’ downfall.

Not many sides go to Stadium MK and beat the home side in terms of possession, but Pompey did; only making it more frustrating that Cowley’s men couldn’t turn any of their territory into consistently creating chances.

Ultimately, there cannot be many complaints at the outcome as one time Pompey target Ethan Robson slotted home eighteen minutes from time to give Liam Manning’s side a deserved win.

On paper, this weekend’s Fratton fixture against Cambridge United is an ideal opportunity to stimulate some attacking fluency in Pompey’s quest for a much-needed League One goal. Over 300 minutes of League football has passed since Ryan Tunnicliffe slotted Pompey ahead against Shrewsbury last month, and with the failure to add to the forward line before the window slammed shut, it is a statistic that will concern Danny Cowley.

On a more positive note, this season has certainly seen the defence and midfield look far more comfortable in possession. Long sequences of passes and using the centre halves and goalkeeper as viable options to play out has certainly seen the Blues look more composed and in control of games.

Yet, the creative spark, composure, and clinical edge has been severely lacking in attacking areas. According to footystats, the Blues rank 14th in XG at home, which, if true, clearly highlights the struggle to create clear-cut chances whilst on top in games.

It would be harsh to criticise Cowley for the lack of cutting edge. It was well documented that this squad reconstruction would be more than one transfer window’s work and the Blues boss has already got the side looking more dominant in possession and relatively assured having conceded only two goals so far (best in the League).

So, what needs to change in this weekend’s Cambridge clash? Two names that immediately stand out in terms of being creative are Michael Jacobs and Arsenal loanee Miguel Azeez.

Jacobs was left out of the matchday squad completely on Saturday, in what was a surprise selection from Cowley. On his day, Jacobs has shown to have the vision, dribbling, and passing ability to break down defences in League One.

The 29-year-old has never really had a sustained run in Pompey’s starting eleven. If given a run in the side, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Pompey be slightly more creative in the final third.

As for Azeez, it seems Pompey are very fortunate to have secured him on loan. Many Arsenal supporters believed a Championship move was the correct fit and some even suggesting a bottom-end Premier League side would have suited the 18-year-old.

The Gunners trust Cowley after he handled Emile Smith-Rowe at Huddersfield, which has aided Pompey in securing Azeez’s signature. Although a bit of an unknown quantity, video clips, and information from Arsenal fans show that Azeez has the dribbling, passing, and shooting ability to become a real threat from midfield.

Saturday against a newly promoted side would provide an excellent opportunity for the Arsenal youngster to bring a creative spark to this stagnant Pompey attack.

Cambridge United are coming off the back of a 5-1 home loss to Lincoln, with Anthony Scully scoring twice and providing three assists for the imps.

The consensus from U’s fans on Twitter was that they were beaten by a far better team and simply didn’t show up on the day.

There was also some criticism of Manager Mark Bonner for going far too attacking against one of the better sides in the division.

The U’s previously ground out a 1-0 against Bolton Wanderers, and some of the U’s faithful felt looking to grind out games would be far more effective in League One.

However, as stated by the Cambridge United fan page, Under the Abbey stand, Bonner is a rookie manager and has learned from his mistakes in the past, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the U’s set up in a far more conservative manner at Fratton Park.

United’s main threats lie at the top end of the pitch. Frontman Joe Ironside and EFL veteran Wes Hoolahan have been at the heart of any success they have had this season.

Ironside has four goals to his name, whilst Hoolahan has created 2.2 chances per game and already notched three assists. The U’s have previously set up in a 4-4-2 formation, however, given their reality check against Lincoln, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a 4-5-1 or a 5-4-1 adopted by Bonner.

Defensively the U’s have been slightly suspect this season. So far they have expected goals against of 1.43 per game (League One highest). This statistic should look promising for a Pompey side who have struggling to muster any sort of attacking fluency in their last three League One fixtures.

Regardless of how Bonner’s men set up, this is a clash that Pompey must come out on top in. If the U’s continue with their bold tactics which they have adopted at home, then Cowley’s men will have an excellent chance to show that they can be a cohesive attacking threat.

As much as a positive performance is needed, a positive result before Tuesday night’s clash with Plymouth is a must. Another poor attacking display and faint echoes from the boo boys will begin to resonate around Fratton Park.

Photo: Below 2020 Media

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