'No-one should be in any football team by default' - Neil Allen shares his thoughts on the key Portsmouth talking points from MK Dons loss

We caught up with The News’ chief sports writer Neil Allen to get his thoughts on some of the key talking points that emerged from Pompey’s 1-0 defeat at MK Dons.

By Mark McMahon and Neil Allen
Monday, 13th September 2021, 4:22 pm

Here’s what he had to say about what went wrong, the lack of creativity in the side, the Blues’ problems up front, why John Marquis started ahead of Ellis Harrison and much more...

Q Where did it go wrong, in your opinion?

Pompey as a side who struggle to create and they struggle to finish.

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But we've been talking out Pompey's striking situation since the summer of 2019 and we're sick of talking about it, aren't we.

It's Groundhog Day, Pompey aren't good enough in attack, haven't been good enough in attack for the past few years, the same personnel are still here.

Perhaps it will change, but it's not.

But there needs to be greater creativity as well.

From left: Ryan Tunnicliffe, John Marquis, Danny Cowley and Ellis Harrison

Pompey defended well. Gavin Bazunu was outstanding and Pompey had their best spell by far when MK Dons scored on the break, which was frustrating.

But then Pompey showed no fight back at all, they didn't even create another chance after that.

It floored them completely and they didn't have the mental strength to get off the floor and do anything about it.

There were some good, positive points there, but some ongoing issues as well with the goalscoring drought and, again, we've been talking about goals and up front for years now.

Q Where do you stand on the up front issue? Is it down to a lack of creativity or is it simply a fact we need a better striker up there?

Well, first of all they need a lot more creativity.

For me, there were three golden chances on Saturday, but you need to create more than that.

Danny Cowley said afterwards that he thought that was enough.

Reeco (Hackett-Fairchild) should have done better with his header - that was a poor header, I'm afraid.

Someone of his height and range - poor.

Marquis had the angled shot which drew the save from the keeper and then Ronan Curtis, from the left, should have squared it to Marquis - but instead shot himself straight at the keeper.

Yet, for me, Marcus Harness has not improve particularly over the past year.

Curtis has not improved over the last year - and they're not creating enough.

They're not getting assists, they're not getting goals in those four positions and then you have Marquis/Harrison or whoever you want to play.

Marquis has had 104 games for Pompey and for me, I've been disappointed.

And I know people keep saying "we've got the play to his strengths, we've got to get the best out of him", but that's 104 games and we're still talking about getting the best out of John Marquis.

Ellis Harrison - he comes in and out of it, and for me should have started.

But it just not all about Marquis and Harrison, we need more from Harness and Curtis.

Q So you were surprised that Danny Cowley went for John Marquis over Ellis Harrison?I would have started Harrison purely because Pompey have struggled for goals and he got a hat-trick against a good AFC Wimbledon side during the week.

For me, though, I can understand why he didn't play.

Although people will say "Oh, he's a footballer, he should be fit", that was his first start on Tuesday night since the start of March - that's a long time.

He's barely played pre-season either - he's had a long-term knee injury, he's had Covid as well, so it's going to take time.

So for me, it would have been a tough ask playing Tuesday and Saturday if you are looking at it like that.

Physically, is he ready to play again so soon after a long time out?

But I would have liked him to start purely because he's got goals, he's got that bit of confidence and, again, you can't keep playing John Marquis every game, keeping your fingers crossed, hoping he's going to suddenly hit a rich vein of form.

No-one should be in any football team by default.

You can't say, "he's the only footballer we've got so put him up there”.

There's got to be competition in there, there's got to be selection quandaries, so for me I would have started Ellis Harrison.

Q Creativity is a major problem but does the midfield trio of Shaun Williams, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Joe Morrell really going to chip in with their fair share of assists?

Dany Cowley’s not got a No10 - he's pushed Tunnicliffe further forward but for me his best displays have come playing as a conventional miidfielder.

Tunnicliffe started the season really, really well but he's not hit that form since being pushed further forward.

He's tried to get Wlliams, Morrell and Tunnicliffe in the team at the same time, which is understandable - but it's not working, they're not creating and Pompey aren't scoring goals.

That needs to change, but what's he going to do with those three?

Q Pompey do have the likes of Louis Thompson and Miguel Azeez to step up, while Michael Jacobs and Gassan Ahadme weren't even on the bench on Saturday. Did their absences - two players with creativity - surprise you?

Yes and no.

I've been disappointed with Gassan since the season started.

Although he scored a hat-trick against Havant & Waterlooville and other goals in pre-season, this is a league season and he's struggled largely.

There's been flashes of talent, and don't get me wrong, he's young - but he's struggled physically, he had a really poor game against Wimbledon during the week and, again, we can't put too much pressure on him.

He's a 20-year-old kid, has never played in the Football League before so you've got to be patient with him.

His time will come and there's clearly ability there, but where do you play him at the moment?

He's played off the striker but it's not worked in some games, he's been going missing.

Jacobs - he's barely featured at all and is another one who needs match minutes in his legs after a long-term injury.

He's been out since the start of April so hardly played pre-season.

I'd have Jacobs on the bench but it depends on the make-up of the bench.

You can't have everyone there, but Jacobs is a quality performer and at the moment Cowley see's Hackett-Fairchild and Curtis ahead of him on the left flank.

Q Do you get the sense that Danny Cowley will wield the axe for Saturday's game against Cambridge or keep faith with certain players?

It's difficult to keep faith with a team that has lost their past two League One games and have also failed to score in 358 league minutes.

So forget about keeping faith.

He's got competition in that squad - that's why we've been talking about players being left out of the squad on Saturday.

That's why George Hirst wasn't there, Gassan wasn't in there, why Jacobs wasn't there.

He's got a big squad, selection dilemmas, so you've got to use your squad.

It's not working, they're not scoring goals, they're not creating enough - change it.

We can't keep sitting here waiting for something to happen.