Walsall v Pompey: pre-match talking points

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Will Rooney picks out the key talking points ahead of Pompey’s trip to Walsall...

OPTIONS FROM THE BENCH

Oli Hawkins. Picture: Joe Pepler

Oli Hawkins. Picture: Joe Pepler

Injuries have scourged Pompey throughout this season.

As Neil Allen pointed out a few weeks ago, 22 Blues players have spent time in Bobby Bacic’s treatment room at some point or another this term.

To Kenny Jackett’s credit, he hasn’t bemoaned the problems.

No matter how damning the injury situation has looked at times, the Pompey boss has always got on with things and made do with the resources available to him.

It’s quite remarkable that, considering the number of setbacks, the Blues’ play-off ambitions are very much alive.

And Jackett’s options have been bolstered at the perfect time for a pivotal final eight games this season.

Oli Hawkins and Stuart O’Keefe are back to full fitness and available for the trip to Walsall tomorrow.

Bar Danny Rose, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis and Stephen Henderson, who are all out for the season, Jackett has a clean bill of health to select from.

There have been times this season when options on Pompey’s bench have looked scarce.

Jackett may have thought substitutes were needed when things weren’t going to plan in games, but didn’t have suitable players to make an impact and kept tired legs on the pitch.

The likes of Theo Widdrington and Dan Smith both have big futures in the game but lack first-team and League One experience to change an outcome of a match.

Now, however, Jackett has genuine protagonists who give him the flexibility and scope to impact games.

The Pompey boss is likely to name the same starting line-up as last week’s win over Oxford.

That’ll mean on the bench he’ll have Hawkins, O’Keefe, Connor Chaplin and Matty Kennedy, who all offer something different and have the ability to make their presence felt.

A THIRD SUCCESSIVE CLEAN SHEET

It’s expected Christian Burgess will sit among the substitutes for a third game on the bounce at the Bescot Stadium.

That’s because he can’t force his way back into Kenny Jackett’s side as the partnership of Matt Clarke and Jack Whatmough has been so impressive in recent weeks.

Despite both being just 21, they’ve dominated in central defence since thrown together at the back.

The pair look far older than their age suggests, both physically and in their performances.

Since Jackett dropped Burgess and dovetailed Clarke and Whatmough, Pompey have delivered wins over Oldham and Oxford, with clean sheets in each game to boot.

In the 3-0 success over the U’s, Whatmough’s aerial prowess was second to none, while Clarke dominated throughout.

The Blues are bidding for a third successive shut-out against Walsall and, if successful, they’d complete a hat-trick of clean sheets for the first time in more than three months.

KEEPING UP THE PRESSURE

Kenny Jackett is adamant fifth and sixth places are up for grabs.

And Pompey have a golden opportunity to move within one spot of a play-off place.

The Easter period started perfectly for the Blues, with Bradford suffering defeat to Blackburn on Thursday night.

Although Plymouth and Charlton delivered comprehensive wins today over Southend and Northampton, Peterborough slipped to defeat at fourth-placed Rotherham and Scunthorpe drew at Oxford.

The Blues will be buoyed by two successive wins, and face a Walsall side still scrapping to preserve their League One status.

Granted, the Saddlers will be under Dean Keates for the first time and that might give them that new-manager bounce.

But Pompey will be pretty confident of putting the Saddlers to the sword, especially as their away form has taken an upshot since the turn of the year.

If Kenny Jackett’s side win by three-clear goals at the Bescot Stadium, it would move them up to seventh.

They’d have a game in hand on fifth-placed Scunthorpe and that would set them up perfectly with games against play-off rivals Plymouth, Charlton and Peterborough all still to come.