Breaking down the six-game season to decide Pompey's fate
A six-game campaign to decide Pompey's play-off fate.
A final four weeks which will bring this serpentine season twisting and turning to a conclusion, with Kenny Jackett’s men knowing their fate is very much in their own hands.
That period, of course, begins this weekend with three games away from Fratton across the course of 11 days. By the end of that period things will be much clearer.
Having a positive narrative which would run as close as possible to the end of the 46 games was what most of us were looking for eight months ago. It looks like that particular desire is going to be reasonably satisfied.
The carefree approach with expectations being tempered has melded with the treatment room emptying at the right time to create impetus. That is not to underestimate the Pompey factor. Not for a second.
‘When this club, this stadium and this city have this kind of momentum they can be unstoppable.’ boomed Sky Sports commentator, Gary Weaver, as Fratton rocked on the final whistle on Monday night.
The winning run, which has now reached four games, started 10 days on from the first anniversary of the win at Crawley which sparked the surge to the League Two title.
We all know of the irresistible thrust here which powers title charges or great escapes in such unique fashion. But take away the emotion and what does a clinical, objective assessment of where Pompey currently stand tell us?
Well, stripping things back to the most basic level, let’s start by saying we’ve written off another late charge to the title! But the fact Shrewsbury, Wigan and Blackburn all look set to top 90 points could be significant.
It will be rough justice on the side who falls into the play-offs, but that could count towards a lower total to make the top six.
Three years ago Preston finished third on 89 points. The team in sixth that year – Chesterfield – did so with a 69-point total. That’s well south of the 75-point threshold associated with guaranteeing a play-off place.
The belief that number is the requirement has travelled into the realms of football mythology in recent years. You have to go back to 2010 for the last time a side finished in the final play-off place with more, with Huddersfield achieving 80 points back then.
The amount of action between sides battling at the top ensures plenty of points will be dropped, too, in the coming weeks.
But with Charlton hosting sixth spot at present on 61 points, that number appears to broadly in line with a finish in and around the perceived benchmark – if not in excess of it.
So now we turn our attentions to the juicy stuff. Who’s going to finish in those feted play-off berths?
It’s fifth and sixth place Kenny Jackett has repeatedly asserted his eyes are on.
That assessment discounts Rotherham in fourth, with the Millers five points clear of the rest.
Paul Warne’s men find themselves in a shaky period of form, though, losing four of their past six games.
They also still face a trip to Wigan as well as taking on play-off rivals Plymouth and Bristol Rovers, who still harbour outside hopes of a grabbing a top-six berth.
If things are rocky for Rotherham, Scunthorpe are on the play-off precipice while Bradford appear to have fallen off the cliff after a terrible run of form.
Scunthorpe have not won in nine games, a run which has seen them drop to eighth and manager Graham Alexander depart.
The Bantams, meanwhile, have won just once in 13 to plummet to 11th. Even with two games in hand, their hopes appear to be in tatters.
Peterborough are in Pompey’s sights in fifth, and it’s been a decent run one of one loss in 11 which has kept them involved (albeit with six draws in that time).
Steve Evans’ side have a testing run-in, however, with four of their six games on the road - all against top sides. Plymouth, Blackburn, Shrewsbury and Pompey are the trips they face.
Sitting above Bradford, Bristol Rovers are worth of cursory consideration, but face Charlton. Blackburn, Rotherham and Wigan in the next four. A run which looks certain to kill off any lingering promotion hopes.
That leaves Charlton and Plymouth as the remaining contenders.
Both have a game in hand over Pompey and are in good shape at present, with Charlton notching up three successes on the bounce.
The Addicks do have a lop-sided finale with five of their final seven games away from The Valley. A 15-day period in April also sees Lee Bowyer’s outfit take on Scunthorpe, Shrewsbury, Pompey and Blackburn in quick succession.
It’s Plymouth who are shaping up most ominously, though, with just one loss in 10 – winning eight along the way. The Pilgrims’ rise has been remarkable, given they were bottom of the table as recently as December 9.
That, of course, means the trip to Home Park is once again going to be a juicy one a week Saturday. Derek Adams’ men first face rivals Peterborough there this weekend.
It offers intriguing tit-bits, but assessing form on the journey home can only provide a degree of an insight at this time of year.
More telling is the ability to handle the heat. As recent memory reminds us, when a football season reaches fever pitch it can do strange things to a dressing room.
Some will be galvanised, others will crumble. We look forward to finding out more about the character within the Pompey camp.