'One of Danny Cowley's biggest calls' - Why Pompey boss omitted ex-Luton and Milwall midfielder against Accrington

Danny Cowley made one the biggest decisions of the season on Saturday by omitting Ryan Tunnicliffe from his starting line-up.

Monday, 25th October 2021, 12:45 pm

That’s the belief of The News’ Pepe Lacey, who backed the decision to leave the midfielder out of the Blues’ XI for the trip to Accrington and explained why the former Manchester United midfielder deserved to be dropped.

The 28-year-old started his new life at Pompey strongly by contributing to the team’s first four league goals this season with three assists and a goal against Shrewsbury Town.

But there’s no denying he has failed to live up to previously demonstrated high standards across recent fixtures.

Sign up to our Portsmouth FC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

This saw Tunnicliffe left-out at the Wham Stadium on Saturday as Shaun Williams partnered Joe Morrell in the heart of the 4-2-3-1 formation Cowley reverted back to.

Pompey’s midfield is arguably their most hotly contested area on the pitch due to the options the former Lincoln boss has at his disposal.

And in the latest edition of the Pompey Q&A, Lacey talked Tunnicliffe’s performances and the future make-up of Pompey’s midfield.

Q How have you assessed Ryan Tunnicliffe’s performances in recent weeks?

Ryan Tunnicliffe was left out of Pompey's starting XI for the trip to Accrington. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com

He shot out of the blocks earlier in the season, and had a 100-per-cent goal contribution rate in the first three games.

After that, many were already touting him for the player of the year award, which some may regret saying on the back of his performances in recent weeks.

His displays have conjured many questions and there were a few rumbles (among the crowd) after the defeat to Rotherham, with many wondering whether Cowley would drop him for the game against Ipswich.

He stuck with him on that occasion but it was very interesting when the team-sheet was announced on Saturday that he was dropped – purely because at the start of the season Tunnicliffe was so creative and key to Pompey’s goal success.

Over the past few weeks people have raised their eyebrows about his creativity and what he can produce for the team.

I think, definitely, he’s failed to perform in the last few weeks.

He’s played a variety of positions in midfield but he struggled as a No10 as Cowley pushed him forward due his creative spark.

He struggled there as he failed to get involved and produce much.

In the 3-5-2 formation Tunnicliffe was moved back with Joe Morrell, but again he didn’t appear to do too much.

Shaun Williams came in as Cowley changed the system at Accrington, which was one of his biggest calls as Pompey manager so far this season as Tunnicliffe was one of the squad’s creative successes.

Q Do you think his performances have been a result of the poor run Pompey have been on or is it more individual struggles?

I think it’s a bit of both, really, because the whole team have hardly been that good. It’s one win in 13 games in all competitions.

But when you look at it individually, there have been some bad performances and Tunnicliffe just hasn’t been performing at all in the last few weeks.

I’m unsure where to point my finger really because there’s no obvious answer as to why he’s not been performing.

Although the team haven’t been performing well, there should be an element where if you’re a good player you’ll still shine in bad performances – like Joe Morrell for example.

It’s definitely an element of both, which is slightly strange due to his start to the season.

Q Was leaving him out a decision Cowley had no choice but to make?

I think so.

During his performance against Rotherham, there was plenty of endeavour and he set up Marcus Harness for his goal.

But I wasn’t sure he was did anything else to help the team.

In recent weeks he’s struggled to get into games and press effectively.

Perhaps the system in recent weeks didn't fit his style and the player that he is.

It’s about finding the right balance for him between pressing and utilising his creativity.

Is he defensive or attacking? And what can he create for the team?

Q Will we see a better Ryan Tunnicliffe as a result of him being dropped?

It might be down to the formation as Pompey played a 4-2-3-1 at the start of the season and he shone completely then.

Then there were a few injuries which changed the set-up completely.

If he gets the chance to start in the reverted 4-2-3-1 he may shine once again.

However, it’s difficult to see where he’ll fit in at the moment as Morrell and Williams had a great game on Saturday, especially Morrell.

He’s one of the first names on the team-sheet and is bang in form.

Morrell came back from the first international break with flying colours and his performances have really shown that.

Williams can only manage about 70 minutes at the moment as we’ve seen him come off first in the past three games.

With the depth and quality Pompey have in midfield, it may be difficult for Tunnicliffe to come straight back in.

Due to Morrell’s form, there’s only one space up for grabs and Williams had his best game on Saturday, so it’ll be hard for Tunnicliffe to dislodge them.

Q Is the central midfield position now Shaun Williams’ to lose?

Pompey’s midfield on Saturday looked very strong and that was with Morrell and Williams in front of the defence.

We haven’t seen those two together that often and they haven’t played together for a full 90 minutes.

For the next few weeks it might be the pair that go forward in the middle.

Cowley’s been looking for the right pair that’ll take them forward and with their performances against Accrington, I think they will be the two going forward.