Wycombe v Pompey preview – Time for a change up-top

By Sam Stone

After a turbulent week at PO4, Pompey make the familiar trip to Adam’s Park to face Wycombe Wanderers, with Danny Cowley’s side looking to make it six unbeaten in all competitions (trying to be positive!).

It has been clear that Pompey have struggled in both penalty boxes at one point or another this season. At some points, it has been hard to determine whether the defensive or offensive side of the game requires more attention.

However, now, it is apparent where Pompey urgently require seismic surgery if they are to push anywhere near the top half of the table. Defensively, Pompey haven’t been by any means a reincarnation of the impregnable Italian team of 82, but they have been thwarted by injuries, formation changes, and players out of position. Since returning to a back four, the Blues have looked ‘slightly’ more durable, as they did early in the season.

Going forward are where the deep-lying issues lie and need rectifying this weekend at Adam’s Park. 12 matches lie between Cowley and the glimmering light of January the 1st; 36 points are still up for grabs in that time. He simply has to find a way of getting this out of form, misfiring, and quality-sapped front line finding the back of the net.

There is a general feeling now that John Marquis has had enough time to rediscover his ‘prolific’ Doncaster days. He has been a Pompey player for 2 and a half years now; I hate to break it to any avid John Marquis fan, there isn’t a player there anymore and if there was, he is well past his best. His control, technique, shooting ability, hold-up play, and awareness (most offside player in League One) all mean he is a lower League two player at best now. It’s time for a change up-top.

Marquis’ last two performances have been about as poor as I’ve seen from a Pompey striker in recent memory. So, let’s talk about the potential replacements for Marquis up top. Realistically, due to Ellis Harrison’s injury, two options could occupy the sole striker spot.

Firstly George Hirst. Hirst hasn’t exactly had a great start to his Pompey career, but his performance against Crystal Palace’s U23’s has ignited some expectation in the Leicester Loanee. Hirst hasn’t been fortunate in the situations he has been chucked into the action. 4-1 down to Rotherham and 4-0 down to Ipswich spring to mind. They aren’t exactly ideal situations for a young striker to find his goalscoring form and change the game.

Hirst’s performance against an excellent u23 side (Palace have one of the best academies in the country) should merit a League One chance this Saturday. The Leicester man’s Good hold-up play, passing, running the channels, and remaining a constant threat is already more than what Marquis was offering.

Statistically, Hirst has a strong case to start ahead of the misfiring Marquis (at this point there isn’t much point in saying misfiring, he has always misfired). Hirst looks more of a threat with nearly double the amount of shots per 90 than Marquis.

Furthermore, he averages more touches in the penalty area, successful dribbles, and passes per 90. In addition to this, the Leicester Loanee has better success at receiving long passes and averages nearly 10 more ariel duels compared to Pompey’s current number nine. Hirst deserves a shot at influencing the game from the offset and not when the game has been lost long before he enters the fray.

The second option that could be used is shifting Ronan Curtis from his LW berth to the central striking role, with Michael Jacobs slotting in on the left flank, something that Cowley has hinted at. If Pompey want to challenge Wycombe in the air then Curtis’ heading ability could be utilised well upfront. We often see Curtis flicking on the long goal kicks to Lee Brown with a relative level of success.

Curtis also unsurprisingly has more shots and dribbles than both Marquis and Hirst. Both look good options upfront and have the pace, physicality, and technique to do so. If one of them doesn’t start in the striking berth, then we can seriously start to doubt Cowley’s judgment of what an effective striker looks like.

Looking at this weekend’s tussle at Adam’s Park, Pompey fans will know exactly what to expect from Gareth Ainsworth and Wycombe Wanderers. Direct, physical and will not stop until the final whistle has gone. Wanderers are coming off two very disappointing results at home, having lost 4-1 to Ipswich and 5-0 to Burton Albion in the EFL trophy.

Statistically, Wycombe shape up pretty much as we expect, with low possession, lots of touches in the opposition area, and a high quantity of shots and crosses. Players to keep an eye on include veteran left-back Joe Jacobson, who has the fourth highest expected assists in League One. The Welshmen’s crosses have been perfect ammunition for Sam Vokes to feed off. Vokes has contested the most ariel duels this season and has three headed goals so far. If Pompey can stifle Jacobson and Vokes, they stand a good chance of gaining at least a point.

If Pompey want to succeed, they will need to show the strength of character that many fans have doubted this season. Wycombe will throw everything at a game if they are chasing a game. If Pompey cannot withstand a Wycombe bombardment, then Adam’s Park could be another stage for a Pompey capitulation. If Cowley freshens up the striking department, Hirst and Curtis could both cause the Wycombe defence problems in behind, rather than trying to battle them in the air.

Pompey’s recent performances haven’t sparked much optimism for this match, but if the selection is right and they show the steal to hold Wycombe back, a point is achievable – Curtis and a 1-1 draw would be an excellent result to build on.

Photo: Below 2020 Media

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