The battle of the big-spenders and why Portsmouth boss Kenny Jackett will be wanting value for money against Peterborough
Before a ball had even been kicked this season, it’s fair to say that both Pompey and Peterborough fans shared a similar ambition for the campaign that lay in wait.
Both clubs invested significantly in their squads during the summer, with a ‘let’s go for it’ ethos displayed.
Posh’s acquisition of the likes of Mo Eisa, George Boyd, Christy Pym, Mark Beevers, Nathan Thompson, Frankie Kent and Niall Mason no doubt made all their League One rivals sit up and take notice.
Likewise Pompey, with their recruitment of players like John Marquis, Ellis Harrison, Marcus Harness, Paul Downing, Ryan Williams and Ross McCrorie giving others cause for concern.
Of course, neither side enjoyed the breathtaking start anticipated from those fans in the stands, with Pompey’s 1-0 defeat at Shrewsbury on the opening day matched by Peterborough’s 3-1 home loss at the hands of Fleetwood.
And three games into the season, both were in the bottom half of the table - already well adrift of the division's early pace-setters.
Since then both clubs with lofty ambitions have improved - albeit at different rates.
Saturday’s visitors to Fratton Park now sit third in the table, with the goals of exciting forward trio Eisa, Ivan Toney and Marcus Maddison making the London Road side a significant threat going forward.
They’ve faltered in the division of late, with two straight defeats against Blackpool and Shrewsbury respectively preceding a recent return to form against Burton.
But Darren Ferguson’s are neatly positioned behind leaders Wycombe and Ipswich - and no doubt ready to flex their financial muscle once again come the January transfer window.
It’s fair to say that the Blues’ rate of improvement has been more of a slow burner, with Kenny Jackett’s side’s stuttering start to the campaign only showing signs of a consistent glow in recent weeks.
That’s seen them stretch their current unbeaten run to eight games, with five consecutive victories in all competitions recorded going into tonight’s EFL Trophy game against Northampton.
They’ve accumulated 14 points from a possible 18 from their past six outings in the third tier.
And following last week’s midweek victory over Rotherham, the 10th-placed Blues now sit just two points off the play-offs - and, interestingly, four behind Posh with a game in hand.
The gap that separates both clubs could be narrowed to just one come Saturday evening - if the Blues secure a second-straight win over top-six opposition.
But more significantly, Pompey could find themselves in the play-off places for the first time this season - something that appeared unrealistic to many following their last defeat against AFC Wimbledon on October 19.
That’s why Saturday’s visit of Peterborough is the Blues’ most important game of the season to date. So much rides on the result.
With three points in the bag, the Blues could conceivably see themselves move up to fifth in the table with their promotion destiny finally in their own hands.
All of a sudden, another main promotion rival is left doubting their Championship credentials while Pompey’s confidence sours.
Meanwhile, that forward momentum gathers significant pace at a time when games against the current top two, Wycombe and Ipswich, lie in wait either side of Christmas.
Oh, and then there’s the small matter of how a confident and vibrant Blues set-up will appear to any prospective signings Jackett is lining up in January.
Defeat, on the other hand, does not bear thinking about.
Yes, there’s still time between now and the end of the season to regroup and bounce back.
But it would prove a devastating blow - particularly against a side yet to register a win this season against any of the teams currently in the top eight.
It’s these types of games that those summer recruits previously mentioned will have imagined when they signed for their respective new clubs.
The big occasions, the breathtaking intensity, the unforgettable atmospheres, the high stakes - they all wanted a part of that.
Now it's arrived, both Jackett and Ferguson will be looking at their players to see whose ambition matched theirs when the paperwork was being drawn up.
The Blues boss will have witnessed that desire in recent weeks, with plenty of character on show to lift the club out of their early-season troubles.
Yet he'll be looking for more value for money against a rival with similar aspirations and a current lead in their head-to-head race for promotion.