A golden opportunity - but does anyone truly believe Portsmouth are ready to take it?

The Chimes ringing out at Fratton Park under the lights on a night when the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 6:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th February 2021, 6:13 pm
Pompey look to be heading to the play-offs - where they've only known disappointment. Picture: Robin Jones/Getty Images.

Such an occasion is now a distant memory, but that could well be where Pompey’s season is headed.

Events of the past few days off the pitch have allowed us to look forward to the prospect of attending live sport once more.

And it’s the events on it across the past month, which have contrived to see sights lowered to a position which opens the door to the possibility of fans being present at games again this season.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The play-offs could well offer that route back following the government’s announcement of their road map for easing coronavirus restrictions, with spectators returning from May 17.

That falls, as things stand, a week after the final game of the regular season against Accrington, but with the dates to be announced there could be 5,000 or so seats taken up for any semi-final game.

And, let’s face it, it feels like that’s where things are going once again.

Last night’s win over Oxford United saw Kenny Jackett’s men up to fourth, closing the gap on the top two to six points.

Pompey look to be heading to the play-offs - where they've only known disappointment. Picture: Joe Pepler

But, perversely, it also frustrated to a degree as it showed this side’s ability to eke out results as much as they disappoint; this against a side who’d lost one of their past 11 league games.

After the win over Swindon two weeks ago, Pompey were a single point off the automatic promotion places. On Saturday that gap had been stretched to seven.

For all the undoubted inconsistencies of nearly all of this season’s contenders, we have now arrived at that juncture in a campaign where those with the minerals to seize a top-two place show their mettle.

Peterborough are shaping up ominously in the manner Luton Town and Coventry did in the past two seasons with a third of games to go.

As for the rest? Well, it’s all a bit 'after you, Lincoln. No, after you Hull’.

Michael Appleton’s team are stuttering, without everyone quite being able to claim they are blowing up in the manner people tend to predict the unfancied sides will.

Hull wouldn’t have much comeback at the moment if anyone suggested the same of them, however. After brushing aside Pompey with the kind of display which can inject promotion-winning impetus, Grant McCann’s side find themselves on a run of a single league success in six.

Doncaster’s run over an extended period suggested they were the team to watch, as they won nine League One encounters in 10. Darren Moore’s side have now followed that, though, with three League One losses in four.

They have the games in hand ahead of Pompey’s visit to the Keepmoat next week, but also little wriggle room in a stacked schedule.

And so it goes on with Charlton, Ipswich and the rest.

We wait to see how two defeats and a draw from five germinates for Oxford after blazing a trail through December and January, while there’s a watchful eye on the Lee Johnson effect at Sunderland as they find recent momentum.

But really, it’s there to be had, the initiative seized, nettle grasped and promotion from this humdrum terrain secured.

Do Pompey really look like the team to achieve it, though? Not particularly.

Their form in 2021 typifies the kind of inconsistency which no team with eyes on promotion can afford, with five wins, one draw and four defeats bringing up a points per game average of 1.6 - perhaps enough to scramble a place in the top six.

All the usual angles have been explored when taking a dive into the factors behind the disparity in results.

But there’s none of the pressure of fans being present at games and the strain which has weighed heavy on Pompey at times in the lower leagues, which has been pointed to in the past.

Nor can we really talk about the fractures in the dressing room, not when a couple of weeks ago we were championing the character of the components which make up this squad and their team ethic.

Some have suggested fatigue has played its role in intensity dropping in recent games. Yet, how can that be seriously considered as a viable explanation when Pompey had more than three weeks without a game over the Christmas period, with two Saturday postponements since?

For all the benefits analytics and number crunching afford us today, sometimes there’s no need to complicate matters when simple observations take us to the correct conclusion.

Put another way, you don’t need a Wyscout account to know a litany of defensive cock-ups have been central to recent defeats.

The past four losses have been littered with the individual errors and basic positioning faults which have rarely reared their heads previously.

And going forward, Pompey’s attacking confidence has drained rather than flowed in 2021.

That’s been epitomised by John Marquis, with Pompey’s top scorer trying to do everything to kickstart a run of goals, but seemingly losing sight of the simple things required to do so in the process.

Eyes have been on the man expected to being the finishes needed, but amid his travails there’s been little in the way of support from other areas. Marcus Harness is now 16 games without a goal, Ryan Williams is one in 12 and Ronan Curtis two in 15.

It's had continued criticism, but Pompey’s defined style of play is encountering the kind of issues much more celebrated and refined attitudes have struggled to overcome here down the years.

Yes, you can see difficulties against a low block and ideas dissipate amid failure to carve out chances. But we were sat here saying the same thing about Jackett’s predecessor and his expansive approach four years ago.

That well-worn thought if Pompey had players who brought consistency to the table they wouldn’t be operating at this level continues to ring true, and seems particularly salient when you look around this season’s promotion fight.

The doesn't stop that angst resonating, however, as we’ve seen with fan frustration. And recent days have certainly underlined that presence.

Because ultimately our eyes tell us it’s there to be had once more this season, but we remain to be convinced this team can make themselves heroes. If it’s in their capabilities, the time to show it is now.

A message from the editor

Thank you for reading this story. The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on our advertisers and thus our revenues.

The News is more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism. You can subscribe here for unlimited access to Portsmouth news and information online.

Every subscription helps us continue providing trusted, local journalism and campaign on your behalf for our city.