Danny Cowley's Portsmouth half-term report: what's changed and chances of appointment beyond season assessed

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 6:00 am

And the landmark that Danny Cowley’s already at the halfway stage of Pompey contract has certainly quickly crept upon us.

Cowley was brought in with 12 League One games remaining to salvage the Blues’ play-off hopes that were faltering under Kenny Jackett.

Along with brother Nicky, he took the Fratton Park helm for the rest of the 2020-21 campaign.

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Tuesday night’s goalless draw at Crewe represented the former Huddersfield chief’s sixth match in the dugout.

With all that in mind, we’ve assessed how things have changed since Cowley’s arrival, what needs to improve and Pompey’s chances of finishing in the top six.

How has Danny Cowley fared?

It's easy to become downbeat once again on the back of picking up one point in the past two games.

Portsmouth Assistant Manager Nicky Cowley and Portsmouth Manager Danny Cowley during the Sky Bet League One match between Shrewsbury Town and Portsmouth at New Meadow on March 27th 2021 in Shrewsbury, England. (Photo by Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com)

But, in truth, you can hardly complain about four wins, a draw and a defeat in six matches – which is automatic promotion form.

Cowley's made a quicker impact than many might have expected in such a short space of time.

In less than a month, Pompey are firmly back in the promotion mix, rather than slowly making up ground and aspiring to nick a place in the top six that might have been expected.

As a former P.E. teacher, Cowley would have been used to giving out grades.

On his half-term report, you’d have to give him at least a B+.

How have things changed?

The obvious thing is the style of play and the identity he’s brought.

Under the brand Kenny Jackett championed, Pompey were methodical and pragmatic which wore monotonous on the players and fans alike.

Despite having a reputation as a long-ball merchant when arriving, Cowley’s been starkly contrasting.

The ex-Lincoln chief has promoted building from the back and playing through the thirds more.

Often one of the two central midfielders will drop deep and pick the ball up between the two centre-backs, allowing the full-backs to push on higher up the pitch.

But it’s not a style that requires patience like the likes of MK Dons and Rochdale. Cowley wants quick, forceful passes and to create wide triangles in the final third.

As a result, it’s brought enthusiasm back among supporters, who’d become indifferent during the end of Jackett’s tenure.

What improvements are still needed?

It’s hardly a surprise Pompey are still adjusting to the new way of playing after four years of Kenny Jackett’s ways.

When building from the back, the Blues are getting pressed high and into making errors as the likes of Sean Raggett, Tom Naylor and keeper Craig MacGillivray get used to releasing the ball swifter.

What was noticeable at Crewe was there was too much space between the midfield and forwards, sometimes forcing Pompey to go longer than they’d prefer.

In the past two games, the Blues haven’t created as many goalscoring chances as they’d have liked, although there were gilt-edged opportunities at Crewe that John Marquis spurned.

What’s more, Cowley’s also keen for some players’ attitudes and mindsets to change.

He was concerned by the body language of a couple of his troops – thought to be Marquis and Ronan Curtis – and knows more positivity is required.

What's the realistic target?

When Cowley came in, he was tasked with engineering a top-six finish.

Having dropped as low as 11th in the table, Pompey are certainly back in that mix and currently occupy the final play-off position.

With six games to go, the Blues' run-in is highly favourable. The highest-placed opponent they face is Accrington (both home and away) who are 11th and won only two of their past nine games.

Should Pompey make it into the play-offs for a third successive season then, as far as Cowley's target is concerned, he’s achieved what’s required in a bid for a new deal.

However, Cowley won’t see it as mission complete. He’ll firmly have his gaze on reaching the Championship via Wembley.

Will Cowley be kept on past the summer?

Despite being at the club less than a month, Cowley and brother Nicky have made a big impression.

Having watched many academy age-groups train, shown their face during Easter half-term soccer schools and made umpteen fans pinch themselves by following them on Twitter, there is a real good feel-good factor across the PO area.

That would be even greater on Portsea Island and beyond if we were still not living in coronavirus times as they’d have been going into local schools to inspire the next generation of the Fratton faithful.

Should they reach their target of a play-off finish, then Cowley would feel aggrieved not to be offered something fresh and be able to build a squad in his vision over the summer.

However, Pompey were not short of managers who said they’d be interested in the job at the end of the season.

The ilk of some of those currently elsewhere is believed to be high but wanted to see out the current campaign.

If there was a candidate who Mark Catlin and the board felt was a genuine upgrade, they’d have a decision to make.

Ultimately, the deciding factor may come down to supporter sentiment.

If there’s over-riding support for Cowley then you can certainly see him relocating his family from Lincoln to the south coast.