Caretaker curse Portsmouth will be looking to discard in must-win game at Swindon

Pompey will be hoping to end the caretaker curse that has contributed to their promotion hopes hanging by a thread, writes Freddie Webb.

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 11:41 am
Tommy Wright will take charge of Swindon for tonight's game against Pompey Picture:Pete Norton/Getty Images

The Blues go into this evening’s must-win game against Swindon with the hosts under new temporary charge.

That’s after John Sheridan’s resignation, following Saturday’s 4-1 defeat to fellow strugglers AFC Wimbledon, was accepted less than 24 hours later.

Defeat at Plough Lane saw the Robins slip to the bottom of the table, leaving caretaker manager Tommy Wright with the near impossible job of securing Swindon’s League One status for another season from their remaining four games.

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The first of those comes against Pompey at the County Ground tonight (6pm).

And while, on paper, that task looks daunting, Wright will take comfort in the Blues’ record this season when they’ve come up against sides focused on finding a managerial replacement.

It’s the last thing the Fratton faithful will want to hear as they sit nervously awaiting the latest instalment of their promotion battle.

Yet, there’s no getting away from the fact that their record this season against such opponents is poor – played four, won one, lost three.

The solitary victory came at Fleetwood on January 16, when the Cody Army were readjusting to life without Joey Barton.

He had been sacked 12 days earlier, leaving interim boss Simon Wiles to pick up the pieces.

And the Highbury Stadium’s problems were added to when John Marquis notched the only goal of the game – his first in nearly two months.

But that’s as good as it’s got when the Blues have taken on clubs in transition.

Since then Pompey have lost their past three, conceding nine goals and scoring three in the process.

They slumped to a 3-1 away defeat to Bristol Rovers on February 16, with the hosts, on that occasion, led by director of football Tommy Widdrington following Paul Tisdale’s departure.

Marquis opened the scoring for Kenny Jackett’s then side.

But former Hawks striker Jonah Ayunga – who was denied a switch to Fratton Park before moving to the Memorial Stadium – netted a brace to secure the Gas’ first win in 11 matches.

The Blues’ performance that night was blighted by missed chances and defensive errors.

Yet it didn’t get any better on March 2, when Pompey travelled to Doncaster Rovers’ Keepmoat Stadium for what was then a key battle in the race for promotion.

The relative success Darren Moore had brought to Donny prior to that game saw him poached by Sheffield Wednesday.

That left the untested Andy Butler to take the reins.

But there was no sign of any managerial nerves on his debut as he led his side to a 2-1 win.

Reece James opened the scoring on 12 minutes for the hosts, before Fejiri Okenabirhie wrapped up the win with 20 minutes remaining.

Marquis’ stoppage-time effort proved nothing more than a consolation goal.

By that stage, Pompey were just 12 days away from naming a caretaker boss themselves, following Jackett’s dismissal on March 14.

But there was still time for one more catastrophe for the former manager against a caretaker boss – in his very next game.

Northampton had parted company with Keith Curle on February 10 and remained under youth-team coach Jon Brady’s charge for the Blues’ visit to Sixfields on March 6.

By that stage the Cobblers had only won one game in 13 games since the turn of the year.

Yet they doubled that tally against Pompey in style, scoring four first-half goals before running out 4-1 winners.

Since then, Northampton have only won two games and sit 20th in the table as they stare relegation in the face.

The Blues themselves have suffered yet more caretaker difficulties, with Joe Gallen tasting defeat at Peterborough when he was forced to step in following Jackett’s departure.

Meanwhile, Jackett’s successor, Danny Cowley – who is initially in charge until the end of the season – has seen the momentum he’s built in recent weeks come off the tracks.

He’ll be hoping to get things back on track at Swindon this evening.

But standing in his way is another caretaker boss looking to make an immediate impact.

Pompey have been warned.