Portsmouth delivered a pre-Christmas cracker against Sunderland last year - now they must do the same to Ipswich

It was a pre-Christmas meeting that had all the makings of a festive cracker.

Thursday, 19th December 2019, 10:53 am
Updated Friday, 20th December 2019, 6:00 pm

Two League One heavyweights battling it out not only to gain the upper hand in the promotion race, but also to claim the bragging rights between two sets of passionate supporters.

Both Pompey and Sunderland were well fancied to enjoy a Championship return at the beginning of last season.

And when they met at Fratton Park on December 22, 2018, they were well poised in the table.

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The Blues were cosily ensconced at the summit, four points clear of Luton and five ahead of the third-placed Black Cats.

PO4 was unsurprisingly a sell-out – no-one could miss this intriguing and rousing encounter.

Not long ago, the game was a former Premier League fixture – synonymous with Matty Taylor’s thunderbolt volley at the Stadium of Light.

And it was a showdown that not only both clubs were looking forward to, but the rest of the division as well.

Ben Thompson celebrates scoring in Pompey's 3-1 win over Sunderland last season. Picture: Joe Pepler

There were few goalscoring chances in the first half and nothing separated the teams at the break.

Yet it was Kenny Jackett’s men who’d step up the tempo significantly after the restart.

Sunderland gave a penalty away two minutes into the second half, when Glenn Loovens tripped Oli Hawkins over and was subsequently given his marching orders.

Gareth Evans slammed home the penalty, before Ronan Curtis and Ben Thompson ensured there was no way back for Jack Ross’ men, even despite Luke O’Nien’s effort which had halved the deficit.

Indeed, it was an early Christmas present for the Fratton faithful, who went home with something extra to celebrate on the big day.

And they'll be wanting a similar aperitif before going off to overindulge in too much Prosecco and turkey on Saturday!

Ipswich travel to the south coast for a first league meeting since 2012.

Sixteen of the past 20 fixtures between the two sides were in English football’s second tier, with the other four coming in the FA Cup.

That's a level both clubs have spent the most of their history and where fans believe they should be.

Ipswich had their struggles last term, finishing bottom of the Championship and dropping into the third tier for the first time since since 1957.

Like Sunderland, they were among the favourites to enjoy an immediate return.

And Paul Lambert’s side justified that prediction by going 11 games unbeaten in the league at the start of the season.

But while remaining second in the table, they have hit the rocks in recent weeks, winning just one in 10 matches in all competitions.

Unfortunately, Pompey aren’t trailing a blaze like 12 months ago.

It’s been a stop-start campaign, with an encouraging 10-game unbeaten run quickly curtailed by a lacklustre 4-1 loss to Accrington last time out.

Regardless, the Blues remain in the play-off hunt and are just three points behind sixth-placed Rotherham with a game in hand.

What’s needed against Ipswich is an awe-inspiring performance in front of the Fratton faithful to bounce back – just like that one against Sunderland.

Only this time, Pompey can't afford another new year hangover that ultimately cost them promotion last term.