Blues must stay alive when ball is dead

Ben Chorley puts his body on the line as Pompey threaten from a set-piece against AFC Wimbledon. Picture: Joe Pepler
Ben Chorley puts his body on the line as Pompey threaten from a set-piece against AFC Wimbledon. Picture: Joe Pepler
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It has been worth four points to Pompey in the past two games.

But then you could argue it has also cost them two more.

Set-pieces: Being alive when the ball goes dead.

It’s the mantra which can mean the difference between glory and heartache, promotion delight or relegation pain.

A free-kick routine straight off the training ground did the job at Exeter.

And a classic, quick, short throw-in paved the way for Dan Alfei to plonk the ball on Ryan Taylor’s head for the decisive goal at AFC Wimbledon.

The flip side of that was the manner in which Liam Sercombe ghosted in from a throw-in for the late, late stoppage-time leveller in Pompey’s last away trip at St James Park.

Seeing the time put in on the training ground add to his team’s potency, has been pleasing for Pompey boss Richie Barker.

He places emphasis on organisation from dead ball situations and he can’t understand how that isn’t echoed among all of his peers.

Barker said: ‘It amazes me how people neglect set-pieces.

‘When I mean set-pieces I mean everything when a ball goes dead.

‘That’s throw-ins, free-kicks and corners to a certain extent – and getting a framework and shape in place.

‘That’s important when the ball has gone dead.

‘People knowing their jobs is important.

‘The ball goes dead constantly in football. It happens all the time. So it is pleasing when you’ve worked on something and it pays off.

‘It’s my job to recognise it and it’s down to the players to take the information on board and carry it out.

‘It’s attention to detail – attacking and defending set-pieces.

‘It’s not something you have to spend hours, hours and hours on.

‘You have to ensure people know their jobs.

‘It’s a basic principle that people know their jobs when the ball goes dead.’

Being defensively organised from set-pieces has played a big part in Pompey’s recent improvement at the back.

It’s now five clean sheets from the past 10 games – not a bad return for a team whose troubles at the back this season are underlined by the fact only Torquay have conceded more goals in the league.

The lapse at Exeter stopped it from being six shut outs but Barker was prepared to cut his team some slack on that front.

The fact Exeter were awarded a throw Pompey, correctly, believed was theirs caught Barker’s side unawares.

He doesn’t totally accept that as justification for conceding but feels there were mitigating factors with the goal.

Barker said: ‘I can’t make excuses for the players at Exeter.

‘The one thing I would say is Dan Alfei has gone over to pick the ball up for our throw.

‘The linesman has then incorrectly given it the other way. That is frustrating.

‘I’d give them a little bit of leeway that Dan has gone over to pick the ball up.

‘Thery (Racon) was the same. He was walking like it was our throw and the lad has ran past him.

‘We should learn from that, though.’