First half woes a mystery for Appleton to solve

Pompey celebrate Erik Huseklepp's opening goal against Forest - the only time this season the Blues have led at half time. Picture: Oliver Zee
Pompey celebrate Erik Huseklepp's opening goal against Forest - the only time this season the Blues have led at half time. Picture: Oliver Zee
Pompey's Brett Pitman celebrates after scoring his second goal in their 2-0 win at Oldham. Picture: Joe Pepler/Digital South

Oldham 0 Pompey 2: they said what?

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Michael Appleton has promised to get to the bottom of Pompey’s slow starts.

The new Blues boss saw his team fall behind inside the opening two minutes of his first game in charge at Watford, while Pompey’s display after the break in the 1-1 draw with Leicester last weekend was a marked improvement on their first-half performance.

But while it’s an issue for Appleton to address, it’s not a new phenomenon for Pompey.

On several occasions last season and during the current campaign, they found themselves behind at the break only to turn in a much better performance in the second half as they tried to rescue the game.

But Appleton is determined that Pompey will shake off their tag of being a ‘second-half side’ at home to Coventry, who are also known for their slow starts to matches.

Appleton said: ‘It’s difficult. Having only taken two games myself, it’s something we will be looking into a lot more as we go along.

‘When you really analyse it, you could change all sorts of things.

‘You might change the warm-up, you might change the way you prepare the team meetings before games and you might want to change the team at times to get people who can start the game properly.’

The Blues boss believes every game can be separated into three sections that often follow a similar pattern.

He said: ‘I use the scenario where a match is broken up into thirds. The first 30 minutes is almost like you are weighing each other up, but then almost in every game you watch, on 30 minutes, the game opens up.

‘Then in the last 30 minutes, you are usually chasing the game or trying everything you can to hold on to what you’ve got.

‘A fantastic coach called Roger Wilkinson told me to watch games like that and I was thinking “that’s a load of rubbish” but the more games I watched, I realised that it was actually true.

‘Every game of football is like a game of chess and why the tactical side of it is huge.’

While there was no nightmare opening to the Leicester clash as there was at Vicarage Road, Appleton was more than happy with the team’s defensive solidity, even if the attacking element was lacking until the start of the second period.

Appleton said: ‘If it means that we get off to slow starts but we make sure we’re not conceding goals, then I will take that.

‘Of course it’s still possible to go at teams from the start. If you can do that and get a goal ahead, the first goal is always key.

‘But if you want to go back into the stats, when we do concede the first goal in games in the past 30-odd games, we haven’t won many.

‘That becomes a bit of a mental issues sometimes with players and it shouldn’t.

‘It’s key to get that first goal and if we get that in the first minute, I would certainly take that without a shadow of a doubt, but I won’t panic if we don’t get it.

‘That was the biggest thing against Leicester and I was really impressed with the players for their second-half performance.

‘I told them “I want you to play risk football. I don’t want you to play safe. If you get it wrong, you won’t get a rollicking from me” and I think it freed everyone up.

‘They started expressing themselves and they started creating chances.

‘If we can start the game better, I would take that and getting that first goal is massive.’