The formidable Portsmouth defence now starved of clean sheets

League One’s most miserly defence, constructed steadfastly upon stock phrases of ‘zeros and ones’, is no more.

Wednesday, 20th February 2019, 3:21 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th February 2019, 4:25 pm
Craig MacGillivray and Jack Whatmough are all smiles after the December 8 victory over Southend - Pompey's last league clean sheet. Picture: Joe Pepler

Kenny Jackett’s side have gone two months and 13 days without establishing a league clean sheet.

That wretched 13-game wait has influenced the toppling of the long-time leaders into fourth position, following Tuesday’s uninspired 1-1 draw with Bristol Rovers.

While it’s seven league matches without victory, the ongoing malaise is underpinned by an infuriating inability to perform shut-outs which previously arrived so frequently.

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Craig MacGillivray and Jack Whatmough are all smiles after the December 8 victory over Southend - Pompey's last league clean sheet. Picture: Joe Pepler

In league terms, Blackpool have 16 clean sheets this season – double Pompey’s tally, despite having played a game more than then Tangerines.

Meanwhile, leaders Luton (15), Saturday’s opposition Barnsley (14) and Fleetwood (12) also feature prominently.

Jackett’s men instead find themselves well down the list on eight clean sheets, bettering only Peterborough, Rochdale, Accrington, AFC Wimbledon, Scunthorpe, Plymouth and Walsall.

Yet following the 2-0 home success over Southend on December 8, the Blues had once more impressively flexed their defensive might.

An outstanding return of eight clean sheets in the opening 20 League One fixtures had inspired residency at the top of table.

The backbone was a rearguard containing Craig MacGillivray, Nathan Thompson, Jack Whatmough, Matt Clarke and Lee Brown.

Meanwhile, offering the protective shield in front were Tom Naylor and Ben Thompson, operating as the holding midfield pair in the favoured 4-2-3-1 system.

Pompey’s latest failure to capture a clean sheet arrived on Tuesday night, with Whatmough and Nathan Thompson absent through injury, while Ben Thompson had last month been recalled by Millwall.

Since December 8, the Blues have conceded 21 goals in 13 league matches – and no shut outs.

In comparison, a mere 15 goals arrived in the opening 20 League One fixtures.

It’s another headache for Jackett to negotiate as he attempts to rally a squad whose automatic promotion aspirations are disintegrating with each below-par display.

Yet the demoralising defensive issue is nothing new for a manager with three previous promotions on his CV.

Last season, from mid-December, the Blues went 14 League One matches without a clean sheet.

That was finally earned following three months and two days, arriving in a 2-0 success at snow-hit Oldham in March 2018.

The two-goal scorer that day was Brett Pitman, a player not selected for Pompey’s last four league squads.

Back to the present, Pompey’s season is threatening to unravel – and how Jackett must rediscover all aspects to the winning touch.