The big positive Portsmouth must take as Blackpool, Oxford, Sunderland and Lincoln prepare for the League One play-offs

The lucky members of the Fratton faithful had hoped to be returning to their spiritual home this evening.

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 3:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 8:12 pm

A chance for 4,000 or so supporters to be back inside PO4 watching Pompey attempt to finally break their play-off duck in a bid to reach the Championship.

Instead, Sky Sports will provide the entertainment for what could have been, with Oxford taking on Blackpool in the semi-final first leg at the Kassam Stadium.

The Blues surrendered their berth to be in the League One play-offs for a third successive season when falling to a final-day defeat against Accrington.

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Despite being in the driving seat heading into the encounter, Oxford capitalised by thrashing Burton to ensure their promotion aspirations remained alive.

A hammer blow it was indeed as Pompey ended the season in eighth, regressing after fourth and fifth-place finishes the previous two terms.

Yet not being involved in the play-offs can – and has already – proved advantageous.

By his own admission, Danny Cowley didn't fancy Pompey to be successful in the play-offs had they even got there.

Danny Cowley. Picture: Joe Pepler

For a man who's as positive as they come, such a damning and uncharacteristically pessimistic statement underlined the gargantuan task the Blues would have been presented with.

Awaiting in the semi-finals, had Pompey beaten Stanley, were Blackpool.

The two league meetings this season were tight, both only decided by a solitary goal – yet there was significantly more than what separated the two sides despite the 1-0 scorelines.

Bar a Rasmus Nicolaisen shot that was cleared off the line at Fratton Park, the Blues scarcely created a clear-cut chance over 180 minutes.

Blackpool didn't conjure a swathe of gilt-edged opportunities themselves, but Keshi Anderson and Jerry Yates' goals in the respective meetings stemmed from clinical counter-attacks.

In fairness, both of those losses were under previous boss Kenny Jackett and Cowley might have recognised a weakness in the Bloomfield Road camp that he felt could be exploited.

However, the Seasiders boast a necessity behind them going into the play-off which the Blues would have lacked – momentum.

When Pompey were top at Christmas, Neil Critchley's men languished in 12th spot.

But as the Blues' imploded during the second half of the term, Blackpool stealthy climbed up the standings, losing just four games after the turn of the year to clinch third.

Had the Fylde outfit been visiting the south coast tonight, deep down there’d have been few home fans confident of success.

The bookies might have said otherwise, but substantial sections of supporters would likely have been braced for Pompey’s dreadful play-off record to continue.

Yet instead of spending the past nine days – along with the period before the second leg – preparing for games that Cowley truly wouldn’t have been bullish about, he’s instead been able to begin his rebuild.

Rather than spending time on the training ground for likely failure, the head coach’s blueprint for the 2021-22 season has started in earnest.

The retained list has been drawn up, crunch talks with the likes of Jack Whatmough and Tom Naylor have taken place and movement regarding potential signings has likely accelerated.

Perhaps a blessing in disguise ahead of a renewed promotion push.