Portsmouth Q&A: Why Danny Cowley faces biggest call of his Pompey career, thoughts on Wycombe boss' subtle dig and why Blues judgement should be reserved after Wimbledon, Lincoln and Gillingham games
Pompey recorded their ‘best performance of the season’ at Wycombe on Saturday.
But what’s the final verdict on the victory and what can we expect from the Blues next time out?
Well, Mark McMahon quizzed Pompey reporter Jordan Cross to find out.
Here’s the conclusions that were made…
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Q Where did that performance come from?
It’s a job to tell, to be honest!
I must admit, I was not particularly confident going into the game, just the way it was set up, the problems Pompey had, the issues Wycombe present.
They present the type of problems which Pompey weren’t right for dealing with, but how wrong we were! And how much it was needed as well.
The last week has been really crucial for just giving a shot in the arm in terms of the kids and what’s happened with George Hirst – it’s just given us all a real lift, and galvanised and encouraged.
No-one’s getting carried away, but it was a Pompey battle in the image of what supporters require from their football club and that, more than any talk of potential play-off charges, was a big boost and a reason to be proud of Pompey again.
There was a real unity at Wycombe, between the players first and then between the players and the supporters – and Danny Cowley as well.
There was just so much to be encouraged about and that’s the key take-home rather than any notion of this season quickly becoming a play-off charge – at the moment.
Q Pompey’s character as been questioned more than once this season. Did the players prove a point on Saturday?
I think so.
And I think it’s been a justifiable question – Danny Cowley himself has admitted that going back as far as the Accrington game.
There was doubts as to how well Pompey would respond with their injuries, so many players out, academy lads on the bench, two key players away on international duty.
But there has been a response and I think, as we saw on social media, there’s been some humble pie ate from one or two over what Danny Cowley has done.
So that’s encouraging and, as I said, we won’t be getting too carried away, but it was a joy to see it coming.
It’s those results which are kind of unexpected which make them sweeter when they arrive because expectations were so low.
Q Danny Cowley has in the past criticised his fringe players for not putting themselves in the first-team frame this season. Was he too quick to do that, bearing in mind those games were in the Hampshire Senior Cup and the Papa John’s Trophy – matches that fail to attract fans and don’t matter as much?
I think that's fair but I think Danny Cowley's frustrations were evident there and he was kind of speaking in frustration
You've got to remember he's speaking in the immediate aftermath of these games when he's probably not had time to calm back down and reflect.
When we speak to him on a Thursday, for example, you probably get a more balanced opinion when he's not shooting from the hip.
But Danny Cowley has caveated those disappointing performances.
Amidst all that there was a really encouraging win at Bournemouth which goes off the radar, but quite a few players played really well there, some youngsters played, while the likes of Michael Jacobs did step up.
But you’ve got to say, a lot of players have put their hands up (to play following the Wycombe win).
Alex Bass - that, for me, was probably as good a goalkeeping performance I've seen in a long while.
If you think back to Craig MacGillivray in the EFL Trophy final, and I know there have been a number of excellent displays from Gavin Bazunu, but I think Bass has hit a high since the MacGillivray display and it shows that Pompey are well stocked in goal.
You look at the XG at Wycombe, it was 2.8.
That's the highest expected goals from any of the League One and Two games from the weekend.
I know there was a penalty, and that pushes it up, but there was also a penalty save - and that indicates, if they were banging on three for expected goals, what an excellent performance it was from Alex Bass to come away with a clean sheet.
It was nail-biting stuff towards the end and you're talking four or five top-end stops from Alex Bass.
That's really encouraging for a lad who has has so little football.
But you can go all over the pitch, can't you - George Hirst, Louis Thompson, the centre-halves who were magnificent.
There were a lot of people putting their hands up on Saturday.
Q You mention Bass. But what does Cowley do with Gavin Bazunu back for Saturday’s game against AFC Wimbledon?
I don't think it’s particularly unfair to say that this is one of the biggest or toughest calls that Danny Cowley has had to make since he arrived as manager in March.
It's a really, really hard one.
Gavin Bazunu has been excellent, and if you are looking from the outside and saw that Gavin Bazunu wasn't in goal for Pompey on Saturday, you’d be asking why after seeing his heroics for the Republic of Ireland and his player of the year honours.
But the people close to it, the Pompey fans, can see what a tough call it is because of how well Alex Bass has performed.
Danny Cowley has quite rightly described the goalkeeping department as an area Pompey are best stocked.
To be honest, I don’t know what he'll do, I can't call it.
But what I would say is, what does it say for the Pompey players if you perform like that and record two clean sheets and you put your hand up in such a way that you then drop him? How does that work?
But then, people will rightly say that Gavin Bazunu has been central to the game idea. The way he plays it is absolutely fundamental.
You don’t have that with Alex Bass as much, but I just can't call it.
I think I stand by my earlier comment - it's Danny Cowley's toughest call, certainly since he arrived.
Q We all know one result doesn’t make a season. But Pompey are currently six unbeaten and building momentum. Can we finally raise our expectation levels?
It's encouraging, it's six unbeaten.
You've got to look at some of the games within that, but it's a run of sorts.
There's also four clean sheets in six as well and Connor Ogilvie has been central to that since coming back into the team.
He's been asked many physical questions and has responded really well.
I think he's been really impressive and surprised one or two as well.
And obviously George Hirst in the past two games. To see him come in, I think the pendulum has swung his way now in terms of his battle with John Marquis.
I know Marquis was injured but even without that I think he's given Pompey a different dimension and given them everything we have spoken about - the hold up play, the movement in behind the defenders and confidence - and that permeates through the team.
The centre-halves, Louis Thompson, Shaun Williams – all these players are encouraging at the moment.
But it's just encouraging.
I think it's a season of transition - and I think people feel that inside the club and outside of it.
We're five points off the play-offs. Let's have a look at it again after the next three games - Wimbledon at home, Lincoln away and Gillingham - you know what you're going to get at Gillingham.
But still, let's be cheerful and happy that we've got something to be enthusiastic about once more.
Q Gareth Ainsworth said Pompey celebrated like they has won promotion on Saturday. Under the circumstances, you can appreciate why – but are Pompey not bigger than that?
There was absolutely every reason to be encouraged by that performance.
What Gareth Ainsworth said, I think it was a slight dig, but it was also a 'look at where we are now' too as a club.
But you can't say things like that without there being a little bit of a subtext to it.
But let's not have any snobbery about Wycombe Wanderers.
They were a Championship club last season, they took it to the final day, are a hard team.
It's a tough place to go to and Pompey took a bit of a battering at times.
But they stood firm, they rode their luck and I think there's every reason for Pompey to be encouraged from what they saw.
Again, one of the most encouraging things about it was the unity.
The Pompey fans are really good pound-for-pound away from home and the 1,400 fans and the scenes at the end were great.
Football clubs, fans and managers - it grates on them sometimes when you go to their patch and you do things like that.
So you might get a comment or two but let's have no snobbery about the name Wycombe.
They're a high-flying side, they're still in the top four.
But, for me, the Pompey performance is probably there as one of Danny Cowley's top one or two since he came to the club.