Jeff Marshman reflects on Pompey’s stalemate with Hartlepool and assesses what we learnt...
GIVE ROBBO A REST
He’s Pompey’s chief playmaker and top scorer and will undoubtedly have a big say in whether the Blues’ season ends in promotion pleasure or play-off pain.
But as my News colleague Howard Frost identified last weekend, Gary Roberts is out of form and looks like he could benefit from a rest.
With a run of four games in 11 days on the horizon, now could be the ideal time to take Robbo out of the firing line.
The 32-year-old, who is his own harshest critic, has started all 21 League Two games this season but Kal Naismith, for one, is playing the better football.
Early on this term, favoured front man Michael Smith was struggling to find form and was taken out of the team.
It wasn’t callous from Cook or a statement he had lost faith in the striker – it was good management and deserves to be recognised as such.
Smith has since returned to Pompey’s starting line-up a different man and found his scoring touch.
The hope, for many, will be that Roberts can do the same.
That call, though, lies squarely at the door of the manager, who is entitled to back his player.
And whether Naismith or Milan Lalkovic profit from any decision to give Robbo a rest, or Conor Chaplin gets the nod in a promised new-look system, is a talker for another day.
Every single team in League Two knows how Pompey play.
There is a confidence that almost borders on arrogance from the Blues in the belief they can stick to plan A, rolling out a 4-2-3-1 system to pass their way through any side they come up against.
When it’s good, it’s great and under boss Paul Cook, the fans have been treated to some fantastic football in the past 18 months or so.
One win in their last six home games, however, suggests it is up for debate.
Sadly, the blueprint for how to inflict Fratton frustration on Cook’s men has now been written.
Visiting teams simply sit in, stay disciplined and put bodies behind the ball to play for a point they know will be celebrated by their own travelling support – a game plan less heralded or indeed tolerated on home soil.
The braver or luckier among them take their chances on the counter-attack or at set-plays to inflict even greater pain.
Of course, not all teams are able to complete their mission and some rely on outstanding individual displays, such as returning Pools keeper Trevor Carson, to enable them do so.
But do not expect the tactics of opponents to change before Pompey’s own, when visitors have a tried-and-tested method of collecting a prized memento from their big day out.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
Paul Cook last week promised to make changes to his team line-up and formation over the upcoming Christmas period.
Sadly, they were not scheduled before Saturday’s visit of Hartlepool.
After the game, though, he stood by his decision to keep faith with the 4-2-3-1 system and personnel that beat Grimsby – and insisted the Blues could have done nothing more to win the game.
While there is no doubting Pompey dominated a one-sided encounter, my own view is it was a mistake not to roll the dice before the Pools’ visit.
I’m not using the benefit of hindsight here, either.
Fragile Hartlepool had just lost 5-0 at home to Cambridge, yet arrived to face a side employing one lone striker and two holding midfielders.
All they had planned to do was put 11 men behind the ball, concede possession and take their chances of emulating many other sides who have been able to inflict Fratton frustration.
There was a cruel irony in that former Blues keeper Trevor Carson was ultimately responsible for allowing them to achieve that, although he played down his role after the game.
But waiting until the 70th minute before attacking changes were made by the hosts was difficult to understand against a very poor if dogged, side ripe for the picking.