Key decisions Portsmouth boss Danny Cowley will need to make as Blues prepare for Rotherham
Danny Cowley will have to make a number of key decisions for Pompey’s clash with Rotherham on Saturday.
The Blues are without the talismanic Ronan Curtis who is serving a ban for accumulating five yellow cards already this term – and the former Huddersfield Town boss will need to find a worthy replacement.
After the damming defeat to Sutton United on Tuesday, he will be reluctant to call upon a number of the ‘fringe’ players who featured as they did little to impress.
This may result in Cowley moving away from the 3-4-3 formation that has seen improved performances from his side in recent weeks as potential replacement Ellis Harrison entered the treatment room in the EFL Trophy fixture in midweek.
The Millers currently occupy a play-off place and will provide a stern challenge to Pompey.
Speaking on the latest edition of Pompey Talk, The News’ Jordan Cross expects a difficult afternoon for the Blues.
Q: What can Pompey expect against Rotherham on Saturday?
A: ‘It’s going to be a very tough test. If you take a look at their form, I believe they’re unbeaten in six and they’re perennial contenders when they’re in this division. ‘
‘Looking at the next three games for Pompey, starting with Rotherham then Ipswich at home and Accrington away, I think it’s probably the toughest trio of games that Pompey have faced this season.
‘Rotherham are a tough nut to crack, Ipswich are starting to find some form, and Accrington has been a graveyard for Pompey over the years.
‘Speaking to players like Sean Raggett and Ryan Williams who played under Paul Warne at Rotherham, they’re very respectful of what he does.
They’re relentless in their work ethic, in the Championship they played with two wingers and they took them off after 60 minutes because they ran themselves into the ground.
‘I think it’s a really tough test for Pompey this weekend and anything they do get would be a bonus.
‘At least we go there with optimism after the Sunderland league game, I know it was a step back on Tuesday but it was more of a blip in terms of the eight changes Danny Cowley made.’
Q: Did the international break come at the wrong time after the victory over Sunderland?
A: ‘I think it did, yes. What led to the major disappointment on Tuesday was the fact they had time to prepare for that game.
‘Cowley has said with the schedule of League One you don’t always have time to prepare for each game.
‘He wanted to keep that momentum from Sunderland going, but now it’s time to pick up. Pompey didn’t have a lot of time off as they spent days doing team bonding exercises.
‘It was a slight frustration that Pompey didn’t get to immediately build on the win but you could flip it round and the players should certainly be fresh on Saturday.’
Q: Are you surprised that Ronan Curtis is the first player to receive five yellow cards for Pompey this season?
A: ‘No I’m not surprised and it’s something Danny Cowley has alluded to. Five yellow cards for an attacking player by October isn’t the best.
‘Ronan has always played with his heart on his sleeve and you can break down each yellow card to see what he could have done better. Some of them were unnecessary fouls and anything for dissent raises questions.
‘The final one he picked up before Sunderland deep into stoppage-time needs to be questioned as it was totally unnecessary.
‘I also recall the one against Plymouth, but I defend the gaining of that card because it really revved the crowd up and it helped lift the intensity in what was a good half for Pompey.
‘There are things Ronan can do to improve in that aspect as two or three that he received you can’t argue with but they do raise questions.’
Q: What options does Danny Cowley have to replace Curtis?
A: ‘First of all I don’t think there were many who played themselves into contention on Tuesday night.
‘There was a chance for people to really put their hands up and I don’t think anyone did that, with the exception of Louis Thompson perhaps.
‘It’s a big talking point going into the game. Do Pompey continue with the 3-4-3 formation going into Saturday? Cowley gave the team against Burton the chance to put their performance right against Sunderland as he made no changes.
‘If he opts for the 3-4-3, I think the obvious option to come in is Reeco Hackett. Again, Danny has used variations of that formation with a lone striker or with a player behind two strikers.
‘Alternatively, with the knowledge that Rotherham is a tough place to go, does he maybe use Ryan Tunnicliffe in a ‘number 10’ role that he has done in the past on a couple of occasions with varying success shall we say?
‘Miguel Azeez is another option. He’s made one appearance so far but he’s back, fit and raring to go and I suspect a lot of Pompey fans would like to see him.
‘’Or he could go to a back four which is certainly an option now with Connor Ogilvie back in contention. He’s one comfortable in a back four alongside Sean Raggett and that would be in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
‘The way I see it would be for a third midfielder to go in there and, as Danny Cowley describes it, go with a six and two eights. That could either be Shaun Williams coming out of defence or Louis Thompson, who did really well as the anchor, ‘then playing two eights in Morrell and Tunnicliffe.
‘Rotherham have a really strong midfield trio so I’m wondering whether Danny will match them up and then move Harness forward and play two strikers with John Marquis.’
Q: Could we see Gassan Ahadme or George Hirst come into the side?
A: ‘It is an option. George Hirst would be going back to his old club where he’s received a lot of criticism so he could be a man with a lot to prove. Psychologically that could be an option I guess as well.
‘Both Gassan Ahadme and George Hirst haven’t done it. It's so frustrating that Gassan seems to be able to do it in the friendlies but can’t translate it when the intensity goes up in competitive action.
‘But I wouldn’t be surprised to see George Hirst come into play with a point to prove this weekend.’