A fixture list laden with opportunity, if Cowley's side don't make play-offs they have only themselves to blame - Portsmouth's run-in assessed

Pompey are now officially on the League One home straight.

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 6:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 1st April 2021, 7:49 pm

With 10 fixtures remaining there’s everything to play for, so we’ve asked our Blues writers to assess the run-in and deliver their verdicts about what lies ahead for new head coach Danny Cowley and his players as the season reaches business time.

Chief sports writer, Neil Allen

As the hackneyed cliche goes, football is played on grass, not on paper.

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Still, as a Pompey fan, who would you prefer to face during an end-of-season run-in with play-off qualification at stake?

Could it be Hull, Peterborough, Sunderland, Lincoln, Gillingham and Blackpool? Representing six of League One’s top seven.

Or perhaps Rochdale, Bristol Rovers, Wigan, AFC Wimbledon, Swindon and Burton? Signifying six of the bottom seven.

Surely there is no comparison?

The Cowleys have plenty to ponder about with no available senior strikers for Rochdale. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com

Of course it would be more favourable to encounter sides with nothing to play for, drifting towards the season’s end without direction and ambition.

Yet there simply aren’t enough teams fitting such a description to make up each of the final 10 matches remaining.

Analysing Pompey’s fixture list, if Danny Cowley’s side cannot secure a play-off semi-final place from here, then they’ll have no-one to blame but themselves.

Sides at the bottom are there for a very good reason, although Joey Barton would have you believe there’s a world-wide conspiracy against Bristol Rovers.

Pompey head coach Danny Cowley. (Photo by Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com)

The bottom four boast the worst defensive record, the worst goalscoring record, the lowest amount of wins, the lowest number of points and the most defeats.

Are they really more intimidating than Peterborough, who hammered Accrington 7-0 last weekend, or a Sunderland side with nine victories and no losses in their last 12 matches?

And if teams fighting for their lives are really so dangerous, how come Rochdale have won one of their last 11 and Bristol Rovers lost eight of their last 11?

When and how is this remarkable metamorphosis going to arrive that transforms the frog into the prince? There’s five weeks left.

Honestly, Pompey’s League One run-in couldn’t be any more attractive.

Pompey writer, Jordan Cross

He insists he doesn’t look at the league table, but you can be sure Danny Cowley analyses the fixture list.

And the favourable run-in of his new club wouldn’t have been lost on Pompey’s new head coach coming into the job.

In fact, it would be no surprise if the Blues’ remaining games played a significant role in the Cowleys choosing to accept a short-term deal to succeed Kenny Jackett, when others turned their noses up at abridged terms.

Through the difficulties of the dying weeks of Jackett’s four-season reign, players quietly pointed to the final 10 matches of the campaign as cause for optimism. And quite rightly so.

No opponent is currently higher than 12th place, although six of the fixtures are on the road.

Cowley pointed to a different picture being painted when the remaining rivals are viewed through the prism of the League One form guide, and there’s some credence to that stance.

A mean of just shy of 19th position is arrived at when calculating the average league position of Pompey’s final opponents. Put them into the form table and it’s just short of 15th.

So any way you slice it up, the last leg of the campaign looks laden with opportunity.

The play-offs is the minimum requirement and the refreshing breeze of new ideas and focus makes that ambition eminently achievable.

Continuing to build that renewed momentum also raises hopes about what can finally be achieved from there.

And, really, that's what this season is all about now.

Pompey writer, Will Rooney

Staleness had permeated around Fratton Park before Mark Catlin made the call to stand Kenny Jackett down of his duties.

A tough call for Pompey's chief executive, who had the utmost respect for the former Millwall supremo and didn't take any pleasure cutting Jackett's near four-year stay short.

However, just two games into Danny Cowley's reign, Catlin will already surely feel vindicated and quietly pleased with his decision.

Cowley and brother Nicky have breathed a new lease of life the Blues dressing room was begging for – and saved a faltering promotion bid.

Underperforming League One stars such as Marcus Harness, Ronan Curtis and John Marquis have been rejuvenated, now showing the sort of form we all know they’re capable of.

At this stage of the season, impetus is required – and the Blues’ is now building.

Even in a behind-closed-doors campaign, the alignment between the Fratton faithful and their club since the Cowleys’ arrival has become palpable.

The new coaches’ modern-day and positive approach has everyone associated with the star and crescent believing.

With 10 games to go in a race for the Championship that’s tighter than Ebenezer Scrooge, there’s little margin for error.

A favourable run-in is a major fillip and there’s a feeling that if this Pompey side continue their winning run, they’ll be difficult to put the skids on.

A top-six berth is very much achievable. And even if the Blues suffer play-off heartbreak for a third successive year, you can guarantee fans will rightly clamour for the Cowleys to be tied down and continue their impressive early work.