No-one would have been more disappointed and critical of himself than Pompey’s top goalscorer, after three poor efforts in front of goal in his side’s resounding win against Cheltenham and result-defining miss at Lincoln prior to that.
The criticism that his misses drew across the fanbase appeared to quickly rally towards a level that lacked sensibility and an awareness of a much wider context. Pompey’s talisman was clearly not oblivious to the criticism and his reaction to scoring against Bolton demonstrated a mixture of frustration and surprise to the attention that these misses had gained.
A few weeks prior to this, Scarlett offered a subdued reaction to a 92nd minute winner, following a counter-attack that he both manufactured and squandered, away at Plymouth. Despite his tender age and lack of first team experience, to score four league goals this season having featured in a lot of football matches ahead of others in the squad, didn’t offer enough protection and shelter from the criticism he went onto receive heading into the Burton game.
Scarlett’s indecision was alternatively viewed as selfishness, despite looking to pass after the opportunity had all but passed. The nature of Bishop’s misses on the other hand, which are supported by his selfless play and workrate this season, don’t fall into that category – as he is forced to take the full responsibility for these.
But with the volume of goals already to his name this season, and Pompey being so reliant upon these, the latest weekly scapegoat to find his minerals and confidence tested, was an obvious but utterly irrational one to move onto (as Scarlett enjoyed some respite after netting the winner in front of the Fratton End).
From an attacking point of view, who might be called out this week against Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday? Could it be a ‘yet to settle’ Lane? A ‘returning’ Hackett? A ‘fantastic but without end-product’ Dale? What type of reaction will this gather when the honest players come good the following week?
In comparison with other leading Fwd/No.9’s, Bishop has started all but one of Pompey’s 32 games this season, sitting second and only 76 minutes behind Jonson Clark-Harris. This is 2,729 minutes carrying the attacking threat for Pompey, as well as setting the out of possession tempo by defending from front.
In further comparisons with EFL1 Fwd/No.9’s, Bishop’s numbers over what is now a well established period of time and across a variety of different contributions, hold up admirably against the league’s very best.
His endurance, durability and humility to provide consistent defensive pressure from the front, to shape and direct play has been unrelenting – blocking 22 passes (4th amongst EFL1 Fwds/No.9) and making 8 interceptions (2nd) for Pompey.
As Ryley Towler expressed on the back of Pompey’s comeback midweek victory against Bolton a week ago, Bishop is a constantly viable target for defenders to hit, whenever pressure is applied to their back-line and keeper, competing for and winning 128 aerial duels so far this campaign.
His contributions towards defending set pieces are also notable, making 29 clearances across the season (5th). Yet in front of goal, it is widely appreciated that Bishop’s 13 league goals have come from a modest amount of chances taken and created by his teammates – 55 being only the 10th highest amount taken from Fwds/No.9’s according to data provided by WhoScored.
After lean and respectively unassuming returns from the long line of strikers who have previously graced the No.9 shirt, the acquisition of Bishop this Summer offered great hope that goals could finally match endeavour and a selfless workrate from their frontman.
Leading the line and being the focal point to Pompey’s attack, Bishop’s highlight reel from his time at Accrington shows a ruthless end product in such healthy supply.
The penalty-box poacher looked the prolific and dependable finisher from the penalty spot whilst brave and clinical when finishing first time from cut-backs crosses across the ground.
He showed his prowess in the air, dispatching crosses from open play and set pieces, whilst showing the desire and nous to react first to any rebound to fall in the box. With good health and fitness on his side, Bishop has the chance to reach the half-way mark towards becoming Pompey’s Record Goalscorer of the 21st Century in his first season at Fratton Park – a target currently set at 57 goals by Ronan Curtis.
Pompey currently lead the EFL1 in goals scored from set-pieces crosses (21 of their 44 goals). Although the majority of Bishop’s goals have come from open play, they have all come from first and second contact with crosses into the penalty area (excluding the 5 penalties scored in all competitions).
Although this team statistic is impressive, it also indicates the side’s reliance on this mode of attack and possibly alludes to a one-dimensional attacking threat that they have struggled to evolve from throughout the season.
Pompey have been an inconsistent team in the finishing phase, especially from open play, missing countless opportunities when players are primed to produce cut-back passes, at times to Bishop who is often positioned between the posts to ready compete for and bundle the ball home.
Alternatively, poor decision making leaves players dwelling on the ball or mistiming passes to runners. Others have fired the ball goalwards and at the near post, wide or over the bar negating any opportunity for a rebound for the likes of Bishop, following up the shot or stretching out to meet the shot angled across the six yard box.
Yet four rash, anxious, tight and tired finishes and touches in front of goal in the Lincoln and Cheltenham games, had created a different angle to a review on Pompey’s and Bishop’s finishing, one that may still remain open despite his goals against Bolton and Cambridge.
These isolated and congested moments within a very promising season, sparked a [somewhat unnecessary] debate, largely because the chances fell outside of the scenarios we had previously seen Bishop either indulge in, or scrap for, depending on which phase of the season you are referring to.
After being put clean through with plenty of grass in front, defenders chasing him down and a keeper heading towards him, Bishop was seen to falter and stumble for noticeably the first time this campaign.
So was it his flexibility as a finisher that was ultimately questioned over matchday 30 and 31?
Fatigue in legs and mind is a factor one can’t quantify but could be considered to help contextualise these misses. As the total number of appearances and minutes tally up, all four chances in question fall in a phase of transition. Where Bishop is an active part in forcing turn-overs high up the pitch, one could look at this for the impact it has upon the tight touches and stretched finishes.
What about the picture behind the finishes – could one see what he was attempting to do and could you see that working if the execution was better?
The Lincoln blast of a bouncing ball struck an indecisive tone, where composure appeared to be seeping out of Bishop as both the striker and ball got closer to the keeper.
A touch that fails to get the ball out of his feet in the opening minutes against Cheltenham, after capitalising on a defensive mistake, leaves Bishop with little angle and space to work the ball around the keeper.
Would a touch beyond and round the keeper, or even a dink over him in either situation have been a better option – has he got that in his locker?
The loose touch to a Jacobs assist later on in that game, bluntly cannons off the outside of Bishop’s right boot, as he looked to get the ball back onto his right side. This would have opened up the goal for a far post, curled finish, or provided him with the chance to fire off a disguised and dragged shot back across and through the bodies and legs of any defender trying to protect the far post, as Bishop strikes the ball towards the near-post.
Once again, the level of fatigue building in his game may have influenced his readiness to receive the pass and the tension seen in the touch itself. A lack of confidence and sheer tightness from the pressure building after the Lincoln miss could also be telling as Bishop decides not to let the pass come across his body, and take on the shot/cross back across the goal on his left foot.
When you look at the clips and goals that Bishop scored for Accrington, you can appreciate a wider range of finishes he has in his tool-box, which offer subtly more depth than the finishes we’ve seen from him in a blue shirt this season.
Both his goals for Accrington at The Valley against Charlton demonstrate exactly the right level of composure needed in front of goal, with yards mounting up inside the legs. You witness the deft touch to a bouncing ball, the delicate, precise and sharp touch and finish in his game which otherwise evaded him at Lincoln and at Fratton Park against Cheltenham.
Surely it would be hard to say on this evidence that these misses were anything more worrying than a combination of the building fatigue from all the energy he expends when out of possession and a lack of sharpness to such specific in-game opportunities, which he’s missing in his muscle memory.
The hardwork that went into signing Bishop in the Summer, combined with the mythical rumours surrounding Blackpool’s late push to hijack the deal, could all become stuff of legend if Pompey’s No.9 sends the Blues back to the Championship.
With Moushino’s backing and strategy to build his attacking force around Bishop and Pompey’s attacking style to suit his attributes, a string of positive results through this method of play have left some fans thinking that a push for the play-offs and a possible route out of EFL1 is more than just a mathematical possibility after all.
Moushino has already empowered and inspired his attacking cast around Bishop to provide a more constant and brave threat from wide areas, going on the outside to cross or coming inside to link with him and others to threaten the goal.
Here and just behind him in midfield, players are finding gaps to stretch and penetrate defensives in the half-spaces, whilst arriving from deeper areas of the pitch to combine with Pompey’s No.9. Chances are also occurring more regularly in transition, as a product of a more aggressive press from the front.
Bishop could look to receive more chances and be put into more situations like the four that passed him by in transition at Lincoln and Cheltenham, if the side continues to progress and evolve.
With confidence, backing and trust, Bishop should go on to benefit from a consistent stream of chances that come his way in final phase of the season and demonstrate just how sharp and clinical he can be in front of goal, beyond burying crosses.
There’s a slim chance that this might see Pompey upset the play-off picture before the season’s finale against Wycombe, if not at least keep his doubters quiet along the ride.
Photos: Jason Brown
Main photo: Below 2020 Media