Pompey’s minders inspiring defensive rewards

Anton Walkes in action in the victory at Walsall. Picture: Joe Pepler
Anton Walkes in action in the victory at Walsall. Picture: Joe Pepler
Stan Collymore. Picture: Adam Davey/ PA Images

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Defensive solidity finally restored – with Pompey reaping the points.

And Kenny Jackett is delighted with the form of Pompey’s minders who have transformed his side into play-off contenders.

Nathan Thompson in action against Oxford. Picture: Joe Pepler

Nathan Thompson in action against Oxford. Picture: Joe Pepler

Wigan substitute Will Grigg’s late header halted an impressive 369 minutes without conceding for Jackett’s rejuvenated troops.

That period produced four successive triumphs to lift the Blues into seventh and on the cusp of the play-off positions during an eye-catching surge.

Certainly Jackett’s pairing of Jack Whatmough and Matt Clarke in the centre of defence is paying handsome dividends.

Previously the team had gone 16 matches without registering a clean sheet, last achieved against Bury in mid-December.

It has also helped putting either Thompson or Walkes in front

Kenny Jackett

Yet while the 21-year-old pair are rightly receiving the plaudits, the Blues boss is keen to credit the implementation of a lone enforcer sat in front.

And whether it is Nathan Thompson or Anton Walkes, Jackett believes they have served as a crucial defensive screen.

He said: ‘Jack and Matt have played very well, they are both good young players aged 21.

‘Although against Wigan, I felt they probably lost too many headers. Nick Powell won too many. They can be even more dominant.

‘However, they have done terrifically well and if you look at the partnership there, it is one goal conceded in four matches now.

‘Luke (McGee) also made a couple of key saves on Monday.

‘I am delighted for him and three clean sheets out of four will always give keepers confidence.

‘But it has also helped putting either Thompson or Walkes in front because, during the course of the season, we haven’t quite got the midfield right.

‘That can be down to me tactically playing two up front or simply injuries in midfield taking away some of our experienced players and some key players.

‘At different times our back four haven’t had enough protection and, in terms of our goals-against column, it has been a key move having Walkes or Thompson playing in front.

‘It’s always a base you go off. You look at Wigan, a terrific side with 23 clean sheets out of 38 games, which is a great achievement and up there with the best in all four divisions.

‘For us to score two goals against them is credit to my players.’

Dion Donohue was the deepest midfielder at Oldham in the 4-1-4-1 system recently rolled out by the Blues.

That resulted in a 2-0 win, with Thompson occupying the role in the victory over Oxford United.

However, Walkes has been handed the responsibility in the past two matches, stepping up from right-back to earn Jackett’s praise.

He added: ‘Walkes hasn’t done badly there.

‘There are times on the ball I feel he can improve but he’s a young player who has just had a season in the MLS.

‘This is his first real spell in the Football League and he has taken to it well, adding power to this team which I think we’ve needed.’