The player key to Portsmouth's League One title push
Saturday's defeat to Blackpool proved Oli Hawkins is a key player in Pompey's pursuit of the League One title.
That's the verdict of The News' chief sports writer, Neil Allen, who believes the former Dagenham & Redbridge player has established himself asÂ a vital cog in the Blues machine this term.
The giant front man, who has his Fratton Park critics,Â sat outÂ the 1-0 loss to the Tangerines because of a calfÂ injury '“Â a problem that has seen him absent since the New Year's Day win against Wimbledon.
During that time, last season's 25-goal top scorer, Brett Pitman, has filled the void.
But the former Ipswich man has failed to find the target in those games and grasp theÂ chance to add to his six goals in all competitions this term.
Allen said that wasn't Pitman's fault, though, with the Blues'Â tactics evolving during the 2018-19 campaign '“Â much to his detriment.
Speaking in the latest edition of Pompey Talk, The News' chief sports writer added Pompey's attacking threat hinged onÂ Hawkins leadingÂ the line and his ability to bring others into the goalscoring mix.
This season, Hawkins has netted seven goals and produced six assists in his 29 appearances to date.
'˜For me, Pompey massively missed Hawkins (against Blackpool),' said Allen.
'He gets a lot of flak, but if you watch that game on Saturday, (Brett) Pitman is a completely different player, and it just doesn't work that way.
'Pitman is a far better finisher than Hawkins, we all know that, better on the ballÂ than Hawkins inside the box, we know that.
'But Hawkins has other strengths that Pitman hasn't.
'Pitman can't suddenly grow and hold the ball up and win headers, it just doesn't work '“Â and we saw that Saturday.
'Pompey have changed, have evolved from last season.
'Last season there was Matty Kennedy and Kal Naismith on the left.
'This year, Ronan Curtis is an infinitely better player in terms of goals and assists.
'Last year all sorts was tried '“Â Connor Ronan was tried as a number 10, you had Kyle Bennett tried as a number 10, and no-one could get any goals.
'This year you've got Gareth Evans with 10 goals, so there's no over-reliance on Pitman this season, while last season there was a complete over-reliance.
'So Pompey are a different team, they score more goals, the goals are more spread and that's, a lot, in part to Hawkins, the way he plays and the way he brings people into play.
'And the team has changed since Pitman was at his brilliant best last season.'