A worrying trend is developing at Portsmouth - but Blues have defining period to turn it all around
Sports writer Will Rooney picks out the talking points from Pompey’s 2-2 draw at Bristol Rovers...
Gas add their name to worrying list
It was a linchpin to Pompey’s success last season.
The Blues’ penchant to hold on to leads and resolutely repel any late pressure was a key reason why they sat at the summit of the table during the first half of the 2018-19 campaign.
However, it’s hardly been an imposing characteristic of their play this term.
Indeed, after conceding important goals in the final 10 minutes against nine-man Coventry, Wycombe and AFC Wimbledon, Bristol Rovers can now be added to that worrying list.
In total, late goals have already cost Kenny Jackett’s men six points this term.
Had they held on in those games, Pompey would be sitting one place outside the play-offs with two games in hand on sixth-placed Coventry.
A far more attractive proposition than their current plight, which sees the Blues occupy 16th place in the League One table.
Yet the most frustrating aspect of Rovers’ own late, late show is they scarcely looked like doing so or deserving of the subsequent point gained – especially from set-pieces.
But the threat of substitute Liam Sercombe – who always seems to shine against the Blues – changed the game’s narrative.
It was his free-kick, which Pompey failed to clear, that allowed Alex Rodman to sweep home and give the Gas a lifeline, before a teasing 93rd-minute corner ricocheted off Ross McCrorie onto the bar and hit keeper Craig MacGillivray on the head to go in.
It’s a massive concern that Jackett’s side are unable to see out games.
A solution must quickly be discovered.
When Ronan Curtis headed home John Marquis’ cross on 70 minutes, it was match point.
Pompey were firmly in the driving seat and on the verge of an important away win.
In truth, they had been for the majority of the Memorial Stadium encounter.
Craig MacGillivray hardly had a save to make – and after Gareth Evans rifled home a his ninth-minute penalty, the Blues continued to create the better opportunities.
One swift break involving Tom Naylor, Evans and Ronan Curtis teed-up Marquis, but he couldn’t quite adjust his feet in time and Abu Ogogo made a fine block.
Then there were headers from Marquis and Sean Raggett in quick succession, but home keeper Anssi Jaakkola made two smart saves to his left.
In the second period, the Gas came out of the traps quicker, but once again MacGillivray went seriously untested before Pompey started to again get the upper hand.
Curtis’ spell out of the side seems to have reinvigorated him.
This was his best performance for sometime, displaying all of his attacking threat and showing he'll be a key player again this season.
His man-of-the-match display was rewarded with a third goal of the campaign.
It was great vision from Marquis to spot the Irishman in space, with Evans’ creativity in the first half also impressive.
The late capitulation is what Pompey will rue, but there were again signs they’re beginning to click attacking-wise having had deficiencies in that department earlier in the campaign.
A defining period approaching
Pompey were crowned League One’s away-day kings last season.
The Blues accrued 45 points on their travels, which was six clear of Sunderland and Luton.
However, Kenny Jackett’s men are currently nowhere near the road warriors title they were once capable of boasting about.
So far, out of a possible 21 points, Pompey have garnered just five on their travels this campaign, with their only victory coming in a smash-and-grab success at Doncaster.
However, the Blues now have a golden chance to propel themselves up the standings
Five of their next six league games are at Fratton Park, with a trip to struggling Rochdale – their next away day – scheduled for Saturday, November 23.
Believe it or not, Pompey are actually unbeaten at PO4 in the third tier this term – a stat probably lost on many given the Blues’ current predicament at the wrong end of the table.
If Jackett's men are to start zeroing in on a play-off spot they still believe is achievable, the upcoming period could prove defining.