Pompey writer, Will Rooney, picks the bones out of Saturday’s frustrating 1-0 defeat to Shrewsbury.
No special treatment
There were plenty of pre-match gasps when the news of the teams came through at 2pm on Saturday.
Kenny Jackett took the approach to drop Brett Pitman and instead selected Oli Hawkins to spearhead his attack.
The Blues captain’s recent performance didn’t warrant him a starting berth against the Shrews.
In fact, some supporters may have felt it came a couple of games too late.
After a barnstorming start to the season, the goals have dried up for the former Bournemouth marksman.
His last League One goal from open play came against Southend on November 18, while his overall contribution in recent weeks have been below standard.
With Pitman dropping to the bench, it highlighted there’s no special treatment under Jackett.
Whether you’re captain or not, a string of below-par performances will see players out of the starting line-up with another protagonist given the chance to instead meet the demands the Blues boss requires.
In truth, it might have been the wake-up call Pitman needed.
His appearance off the bench was his best performance for some time, with his link-up play certainly catching the eye.
The 29-year-old’s introduction brought a purple patch from Pompey, with Gareth Evans having a goalbound shot cleared, while Pitman and Naismith both produced decent stops from Shrews goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray.
Most strikers hit a goal drought throughout the season. If the Blues have any chance of reaching the play-offs it’s paramount Pitman rediscovers his goal touch.
Hawkins’ hold-up play improvements
With Brett Pitman dropping to the bench, Oli Hawkins was recalled to his favoured striking role against Shrewsbury.
With six League One goals to his name this term, the former Dagenham & Redbridge marksman has made a decent transition to life in the Football League.
Hawkins should have increased his goal tally and equalised on 31 minutes when he headed Gareth Evans’ cross straight at Craig MacGillivray, instead of picking a corner.
It was a golden opportunity he’ll be ruing and he’s missed a few similar chances this season.
Nevertheless, there was plenty to take from the 25-year-old’s performance against the Shrews - especially his hold-up play.
Coming up against two of the strongest centre-backs in the division in Matt Sadler and Aristote Nsiala, Hawkins refused to be bullied off the ball even when his shirt was being pulled on numerous occasions.
And instead of choosing to flick on with his head when long balls were played to him, Hawkins instead opted to take the majority on his chest and get the football down on the deck to bring others into play.
It’s something the former Hemel Hempstead talent has likely been working on in training as he acclimatises to what the requirements of a League One striker are.
A January to forget
It’s safe to say Pompey will want to put this month firmly behind them and move on as quickly as possible.
The new year optimism of finishing in the play-offs has slightly ebbed away, with the Blues failing to win a single game in January.
Kenny Jackett’s men picked up a solitary point from four league games, as well as exiting the Checkatrade Trophy at the hands of Chelsea under-21s.
It’s the longest streak the Pompey manager has gone without a success since taking the helm at Fratton Park last summer.
The winless run not only means the Blues have slipped five points away from the top six, but the likes of Gillingham and Bristol Rovers’ good recent form means there are now even more contenders all in the play-off hunt.
Nevertheless, the Pompey dressing room shouldn’t be too disheartened by their recent results.
It’s not like they have been played off the park in those fixtures, with the Blues suffering last-gasp losses in three of the games, while Saturday’s defeat at Shrewsbury could have been so different if David Coote pointed to the penalty spot for Shaun Whalley’s handball.