Portsmouth risk comes reward as striker crisis answered emphatically against Rochdale

Sports writer Will Rooney picks out the talking points from Pompey’s 2-1 win over Rochdale on Good Friday...

Saturday, 3rd April 2021, 8:00 am

Striker crisis – what striker crisis?

The pre-match talk was unsurprisingly dominated by Pompey's striker crisis they had to deal with.

In his 14 years of management, Danny Cowley admitted he had never gone into a game with a recognised senior number nine.

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With John Marquis suspended, along with Ellis Harrison and Jordy Hiwula both injured, Ronan Curtis took up the mantle to lead the line.

And any fears a makeshift centre-forward would blight the Blues' promotion aspirations were swiftly allayed.

Despite just a day of training since returning from international duty with the Republic of Ireland, Curtis stepped up magnificently.

His high-octane pressing ensured visiting keeper Gavin Bazunu's clearance went as far as Michael Jacobs, who launched a swift foray rounded off by Ryan Williams in the fifth minute.

Pompey celebrate Ryan Williams' goal in their win over Rochdale. Picture: Joe Pepler

Then on 37 minutes, Curtis got his rewards with a fine left-footed finish that gave his fellow countryman Bazunu no chance of saving.

With Marquis absent for the next two games, the former Derry City man will continue to spearhead Pompey's attack.

And as he acclimatises to his new-found role further, there seems no reason why he can't continue making rapid headway.

With risk comes reward

It's something we very rarely, if ever, witness during Kenny Jackett's near four-year reign.

But in the short space of time, Danny Cowley’s have been in charge, it's become a key component to his set-up.

Playing out from the back and through the thirds is at the forefront of the new head coach's philosophy. So much for the long-ball merchant moniker he'd previously been tarred with.

At times, there were some nervy moments when knocking the ball around at the defence – especially against a Rochdale side that deploys similar tactics and know how to press in the correct manner.

But there was evidence when Pompey get it right, it can be a dangerous and effective weapon.

Sean Raggett's not exactly known as a ball-playing centre-back – more your head it, kick it type.

However, after patient build-up, it was his pass that beat the Dale's press to find Michael Jacobs, who on the half-turn moved the ball quickly to Ronan Curtis to finish with aplomb.

Early in the second half, there was another moment when Raggett again found Jacobs with plenty of purpose although this time the attack just broke down.

With the Cowleys' tenure still in its infancy, there will be occasions when Pompey are caught out in possession deep in their own territory. There might even be a goal or two conceded along the way.

But it's the in-vogue brand of football fans have craved – and early signs show it can yield success.

Burgeoning belief

After the Papa John's Trophy final humbling to League Two Salford at Wembley, you'd have been lucky to count a handful of Pompey supporters confident promotion could be delivered.

Yet just three weeks later, optimism is aplenty about the Blues' chances of going up to the Championship.

Danny and Nicky Cowley have ridden the staleness that had previously permeated around Fratton Park and the apathy in the PO area.

With them, they've imparted their knowledge, implemented a new style of play and instilled fresh belief in the players and the fans.

Granted, the defeat of Rochdale wasn't a complete performance and there’s more to work on.

But in the space of just two weeks, they've already got a previously-faltering side back firing with a swagger.

Had Hull, Sunderland and Peterborough all not picked up late wins, whispers of a top-two finish may even have started.

It's fanciful to think going up automatically will be achieved now.

However, in current form, the Blues have the impetus required to grab a play-off spot - and give a better account than the failure of the past two years.