Pompey disappointed in Saturday’s loss to Leyton Orient.
Jordan Cross looks back at what we learnt from the defeat...
Formation a factor?
Remember when all Pompey fans wanted to see was a manager playing 4-4-2?
That day seems a long time ago in the wake of Saturday’s Leyton Orient frustration.
Constant calls to play two up top peppered Richie Barker’s days as Blues manager. It’s popped up intermittently both before and after his tenure.
Well, it’s been the way Paul Cook has gone in the past two games and his side have collected one disappointing point and struggled to create as much as usual.
‘Nigh on two up top,’ was the way Cook described the way he set his side up.
New boy Michael Smith was partnered with Marc McNulty, who was afforded greater freedom to wander.
Gary Roberts was used on the right, with Kyle Bennett operating down the left, and Michael Doyle was partnered with Ben Close for the third game on the bounce in the middle.
At times, Roberts appeared to tuck in, ostensibly to let Kieron Freeman provide the width from right-back.
Getting forward with pace is a big factor in why Freeman has been brought in, as he provides Ben Davies – arguably Pompey’s most consistent performer – with competition.
It’s become a regular feature to see Enda Stevens do the same down the left, this time with Bennett in front of him, after Kal Naismith dropped out of the squad entirely after starting at Morecambe.
Against Orient’s 4-1-4-1 approach the Blues didn’t look settled, however, and it was ditched after the break for the 4-2-3-1 Cook has built most of his success around.
Can much be read into Pompey stuttering with two up top? Probably not.
Underperforming players and a lack of energy was a far greater factor.
Don’t judge Smudge as he makes Fratton bow
Pompey fans shouldn’t be too quick to judge Michael Smith.
Smith laboured on his home debut following his arrival from Swindon on transfer deadline day.
A blocked shot in the first half was the best the striker could muster before being withdrawn after an hour.
It was famine rather than feast for the 24-year-old in terms of supply, however.
Smith was also starting his second game in four days for his new club.
The last game he started before those outings was for Barnsley against Coventry at the start of November.
So it’s going to take a little time for the Geordie to get up to speed.
Pompey fans would be justified in thinking that is time their team doesn’t have.
There are alternatives, however, with his presence offering Cook flexibility rather than a hitman he has to rely on.
The calls came for Matt Tubbs’ inclusion in some quarters, with the striker again not in the squad.
He remains out of favour, however, and looks free to find himself a new club as the loan window re-opens tomorrow.
Pompey fans unhappy at that news may be satiated by the fact Tubbs’ exit could free up the money for another move for Caolan Lavery.
Pompey still haven’t given up on bringing in the Irishman.
Painful Orient defeat was a wasted opportunity
Saturday’s defeat was one of the most painful of the season.
Why? Because it was a big missed opportunity.
Affording a game must-win status is a surefire way to irk Paul Cook.
But there are certain points in a season which can be looked back upon as catalysts, moments which kick-started success.
Think of the trip to Crystal Palace in 2002 when Pompey came back from 2-0 down after Harry Redknapp switched to wing-backs. The champions never looked back.
Think of the win at Newport County two years ago in Andy Awford’s first game in caretaker charge. The belief injected that day produced the five-game winning run to League Two safety.
Hearing of the postponements to Oxford’s and Bristol Rovers’ games on Saturday morning sparked the conviction this could be a similar occasion.
That only deepened with the news later that Plymouth’s trip to Yeovil had been beaten by the conditions, too.
So three points at Fratton Park would have seen Pompey up to fourth in the table – three points off Oxford in the third automatic spot.
Psychologically, that would have been a big boost for Cook’s side. Not only that, but games in hand never equate to a full points return as fixture lists become congested.
As it is, Pompey now find themselves in seventh, with Accrington having two games in hand below them.