Play-off finish a growing concern for Portsmouth but new boy impresses on debut
Sports writer Will Rooney picks out the talking points from Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Doncaster.
PLAY-OFF WORRIES GROW
This time a month ago, Pompey sat five points clear at the summit of the table.
The League One title charge was full steam ahead after a successful Christmas period, culminating in a New Year’s Day victory against AFC Wimbledon.
How things can change, though.
That was the only league win Kenny Jackett’s side picked up in January, subsequently losing to Blackpool, Oxford and Luton.
Although the three-match rot was stopped with a 1-1 draw against Doncaster, Pompey are now not only seven points behind Luton – albeit with a game in hand – but have surrendered their berth in the automatic promotion places following Barnsley’s win against Scunthorpe.
With the Hatters maintaining their rampant form and the Tykes racking up a 10-match unbeaten run, they have swept by a Blues side who have hit a sticky patch.
To make matters worse, Sunderland now trail Jackett’s men by two points having played two matches fewer.
To be fair, a draw with play-off chasing Rovers isn’t bad at all. A top-six finish for Grant McCann’s side would seemingly be well deserved.
The fact it was Pompey’s only point out of a possible 12 and they've slipped outside the top two makes is seem significantly worse.
The play-off pain of Plymouth three years ago is still raw within the Fratton faithful.
Jackett will be desperate for his side to avoid the top-six lottery which has thrown up so many surprises in years gone by
But if Pompey don’t pick themselves up swiftly then that’s the fate they’re heading for.
One of the positives that came from the draw with Rovers was the substitute cameo of James Vaughan.
Despite making a deadline-day arrival just 48 hours beforehand, the ex-Everton striker was handed a place in Kenny Jackett’s match-day squad – at the expense of skipper Brett Pitman.
A shin injury to Dion Donohue brought Vaughan's debut slightly sooner than expected. But didn’t he change things.
The Wigan loanee gave the Blues added presence up front alongside Omar Bogle, who at times lacked someone near him in the first period.
Grit, determination, running himself into the ground – it’s what Vaughan promised he’d bring after joining on Thursday.
While one speculative overhead kick flew over the crossbar, the 30-year-old was quickly alert to Doncaster keeper Marko Marosi mishandling Ronan Curtis’ cross.
Whether Vaughan went for goal or he meant to pin the ball back to Bogle, it kindly fell to his strike partner to finish from close range.
Two up top is something Jackett has rarely rolled out this season but the way the two new boys linked up gives the manager a fresh option.
Part of the reason Pompey have surrendered their place in the automatic promotion place is down to their recent inability to keep clean sheets.
You have to go back to Southend on December 11 since the Blues recorded a league shutout, a run spanning 11 games.
For a side pushing for the top two, it’s something that needs fixing.
Albeit, Nathan Thompson and Lee Brown have been sidelined for the vast majority of that period.
But, even still, it’s something Jackett will know isn’t good enough.
Mallik Wilks’ opener for Doncaster was an exercise in how not to defend.
Christian Burgess had just replaced Jack Whatmough, who limped off with a knee injury, and was still getting to grips with the game when he misjudged a long ball.
While some have pointed the finger at the substitute, Nathan Thompson was quick to vent his frustration towards Craig MacGillivray after Wilks slotted past the keeper.
Hesitant off his line, coupled with what looked to be a starting position too deep, the Scot made the Rovers man’s finish easier than required.
To their credit, both didn’t put a foot wrong afterwards.
Burgess helped handle dangerman John Marquis impeccably, while MacGillivray made a flying late save to deny Alfie May’s shot.
As we’ve seen so many times this season, Pompey’s defence have the capability to neutralise any attacking threat, no matter how much pressure they’re put under.
But it’s something they’ve lacked recently and must rediscover their aptitude for keeping clean sheets if they’re to regain a top-two spot.