A tough league? There's never been better chance for inconsistent Portsmouth to gain promotion from indifferent division
The defeat at MK Dons marked the season’s half-way point for Pompey. That’s given our reporters the chance to assess the season to date for Kenny Jackett’s men and what’s needed to make it a memorable campaign. Jordan Cross kicks things off with his Blues assessment and what he believes is an unspectacular division.
League One’s a tough division and there’s certainly no easy games in this league.
These are the kind of words you’ll hear in every third-tier press conference up and down the country every single week.
Except this season’s League One isn’t as tough as in previous campaigns and, in fact, the games are easier than in many years gone by.
That has become abundantly evident as the disappointing 3-1 loss at MK Dons brought up the season’s half-way point for Kenny Jackett’s side.
It also underlines what an opportunity it presents to Pompey - or any other side who can find even a degree of consistency as we enter the new decade.
The loss at Stadium MK marks the turn for home in the race for the Championship with 34 points accumulated at this stage to leave Jackett’s men ninth in the table.
That’s a massive 14 points shy of what they’d achieved after the same amount of games last season, as they led the way in an admittedly powerful first half to the campaign.
A similar total this time around would have Pompey five points clear at the top with a game in hand on Wycombe. Revealingly, though, it would’ve positioned them 10 points in front of third place - a huge gap at this stage.
Taking the same amount of points from the Blues’ total last term would’ve placed them sixth in the table, in front of Doncaster on goal difference.
So, it’s pretty clear the sides towards the top are not picking up the kind of points the contenders were 12 months ago.
You don’t have to look far to see where the points differential has arrived from for Pompey, as they exchange record-breaking away form for a disappointing return on the road so far.
Eight points from 10 fixtures is meek stuff and leaves the Blues 17th in a table based purely on away fixtures.
Conversely, 2019 and particular the latter of half of the year has marked the return of Fortress Fratton, with Jackett’s side one of two in the country protecting an unbeaten home record this term - the other being runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool.
Looking to put the solid home and away form together is the holy grail for any manager, and if Pompey are to do so there’s every chance they could be celebrating automatic promotion in May.
Two points per game is the benchmark for across a campaign. Just delivering that from here on in could well go close to delivering a top-two finish.
At present, it’s 1.54 points per game compared to 2.18 at this stage last season.
Are Pompey capable of bridging that gap? Well, recent form suggests it’s entirely possible, with the 11 league games since the 1-0 victory over Lincoln on October 22 bringing in 21 points - or 1.9 points per game. Taken on the seven League One games since the start of November it’s 16 points - or a rise to 2.2 points per game.
Two points per game from here would give Jackett’s side 78 points. Over the past 20 seasons Colchester’s 79-point return in 2006 is the lowest top-two total. Pompey may need to go a little above that, but, looking at the way things are currently going, maybe not too much.
For all the analysis of numbers it’s the eye test which still serve us well. And that does suggest there’s still a way for Jackett’s side to travel to find promotion form - or, put another way, consistency.
Yet, perhaps it’s only a tweak or two to his options which is needed to get there.
Avoiding a repeat of the disappointing January recruitment in the past two seasons is the challenge which lies in wait - and much will ride on the outcome of that business.
But there’s certainly no outstanding side to fear unlike previous seasons.
With the exception of Fleetwood, Pompey have faced what’s out there and there’s been no opponent to particularly stir awe or generate admiring glances.
The festive period has been the season to date in microcosm. Three games, two impressive homes wins against an unspectacular top pair with a couple of clean sheets before shipping three goals on the road in defeat to a struggling side.
At the moment, Pompey perhaps look capable of being a top-six side, but the potential is there to be that and a whole lot more in an indifferent league which is offering a tantalising chance to go up.