Square one looming as Portsmouth mired in sixth-spot scrap unless there's drastic improvement after Sunderland loss

Ryan Williams admitted Pompey got off lightly after the defeat to Sunderland when it came to the wider picture.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 5:03 pm
Updated Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 5:39 pm

He conceded how the Blues, despite falling to a third successive loss, were fortunate teams around them also slipped up to remain in the League One play-offs.

Although Kenny Jackett’s men suffered more recent misery, this time at the hands of the Black Cats, they were lucky Ipswich and Accrington also dropped points against Lincoln and Bristol Rovers respectively.

Amid a dire run of collecting a meagre four points from the past seven games, somehow Pompey hang by a thread in the top six.

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Who could have imagined things would jettison so quickly when the Blues were top at Christmas, or when they boasted the most goals scored and fewest conceded in the division?

Of course, there are still 39 points to play for and even the title still can't mathematically be ruled out.

However, as the Blues continue to be mired down by lacklustre form and a dearth of confidence, any realistic chance of reaching the Championship will be via the play-offs.

Andy Cannon and Jack Whatmough dejected after Pompey concede in their defeat to Sunderland, left, and Christian Burgess and Matt Clarke crestfallen following the Blues' defeat to Bury in the 2017-18 season. Pictures: Joe Pepler

Pompey teeter on the edge of the promotion race, with a noticeable gap between them and fifth-placed Doncaster. They’re three points ahead and have two games in hand.

And with Sunderland winning at Fratton Park, they're now eight points in front having played the same number of matches.

Should sixth spot be yielded, it'll mean the Blues finish a spot lower than last season – and two berths below 2018-19.

There’s no guarantee that Jackett’s side will even happen based on current form, though.

Ipswich, Accrington, Oxford, Charlton and now even Blackpool are very much breathing down Pompey’s neck.

In truth, as things stand Jackett’s outfit are heading back to square one.

During Jackett’s first season, the Blues were also in a scrap for sixth – only that time it was an overachievement.

Replacing Paul Cook after his shock departure, the ex-Millwall supremo had little time to plan for the 2017-18 season.

Consolidation after four years in the Football League’s doldrums was always the principal aim – but instead Pompey challenged for the final play-off spot.

Their top-six bid was only mathematically put paid to on the penultimate day of the campaign in an abject 1-0 loss to already-relegated Bury.

Still, it was a feat in itself how the Blues flitted around the play-offs for most of the term as Jackett put his stamp on things.

However, to now only be considered sixth-place challengers by many with the current squad is well below what’s deemed acceptable.

Considering the aim was automatic promotion in the summer, Jackett's side are on course to miss their target by some mark.

In fairness, there is one pivotal difference to three years ago. During the business end of that season, hardly anyone thought Pompey could clinch a berth in the top six.

That’s not to say there wasn’t some top talent in the squad. Part of the core group was Matt Clarke, Jamal Lowe, Nathan Thompson and Christian Burgess.

Yet the was a lack of depth and quality to support those who were genuine quality League One performers.

You can’t say that’s the case this time around. Among them are players who have arrived for substantial fees, internationals, several with Championship experience and a good number who’re previous promotion winners. All the usual concoctions required to get out of this division.

Before Christmas, when putting Hull, Peterborough, Lincoln, Sunderland and Sunderland to the sword in comfortable fashion, Pompey demonstrated they’re capable of convincing they can finally remove their third-tier shackles at the fourth time of asking.

But unless that sort of form is recaptured, a play-off finish will be blown – and it’ll represent marked regression.