Time to put respect on Portsmouth's name as ‘lucky long-ball merchants’ close in on prize ahead of Derby County showdown

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Matt Bloomfield’s words were a refreshing departure to the well-worn narrative of many of his peers this season.

‘Portsmouth are top of the league for a reason as they are a very good team,’ said the Wycombe boss, as he acknowledged the better team won at Adams Park.

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Last time out, Peterborough boss Darren Ferguson’s insistence John Mousinho’s side were ‘lucky’ in a victory built on ‘getting it forward’, was more in line with what Pompey fans have become accustomed to hearing from those attached to League One rivals.

‘Delighted’ to escape with a draw, ‘did not have a clue’ and the oft-repeated ‘we were the better side’ are some of the post-match soundbytes churned out by opposing managers this term.

Meanwhile, in the tribal world of supporters things are ramped up even further as the Blues are branded a ‘kick and rush’ merchants, a ‘poor side with poor squad depth’ and the ‘worst team to hold top spot of a league for so long’.

One highly placed official at a rival, went as far as to say the team which started at Wycombe was surely one of the poorest sent out by a League One leader in recent memory.

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So there you have it, Mousinho’s long-ball merchants are bungling their way to the brink of promotion off the back of a hefty dose of fortune and not much else.

Football is a business where offloading your own side’s shortcomings with excuses is the norm. We’ve become conditioned to the process.

But whatever happens as Derby County arrive at Fratton Park for the top-of-the-table showdown, surely it’s now time to put some respect on Pompey’s name. 

The Blues step out under the lights on the back of a 13-game unbeaten sequence, in a season where they’ve set a club record for a 27-game run without defeat across this campaign and last.

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They’ve done so when claiming 21 points from losing positions to date, the best defensive record along with Lincoln, and only their opponents in front of the Sky cameras having a better goal difference.

Pompey’s 86-point total is comparable to the haul of Harry Redknapp’s heroes of 2002-03 at a similar stage, who eventually stormed to the Premier League with a club record 98-point total.

The emergence of the notion of Mousinho’s side as a route one operator is a curious sentiment, one which would be rebuffed by those who’ve watched Pompey for any significant period this season.

The data places Mousinho’s side towards the head of the division for passing sequences, while only Reading and Peterborough press harder according to the stats.

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Our eyes tell us this is a Pompey side who are adaptable to the challenges presented. 

There’s been moments of expansive quality and patience to draw out the spaces against low blocks, switches of play with Marlon Pack prompting the wide runs to get down the sides of defences.

Yes, there’s been a pragmatic approach when required, when turning sides around and using the strength of Colby Bishop’s hold-up play has been necessary.

But, likewise, the energy and vim with which Pompey have counter-attacked sides to death this term has been a joy, with Kusini Yengi’s Peterborough winner the freshest in the memory on that front.

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This has all happened with Mousinho staunchly refusing to weaponise an unprecedented injury list in his media messages, ironically while his rivals choose to do just that.

For clarity, it’s 12 operations, 10 long-term injuries and six men out for the season, with Pompey finishing the Peterborough game with 15 players missing through illness and injury. That really is an armada missing from battle.

Twelve months ago, a team now pushing for the Premier League in Ipswich couldn’t win one of the strongest divisions in recent memory. No one is hiding from the fact Pompey lead the way in a league which doesn’t stack up to that high watermark.

But this group of players more than stand up alongside League One outfits who have prospered before - sides who’ve gone on to succeed at the level above and beyond. 

However they are viewed in the wider football world, Pompey know Fratton immortality awaits them amid success this season. And that will live on long after the sniping from rivals has resided.

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