The key stat Paul Downing must improve if he's to win back Portsmouth starting spot

Pompey’s players will be on an even keel when they get the green light to step up their training.

Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 4:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th May 2020, 10:15 am
Paul Downing. Picture: Nigel Keene

According to manager Kenny Jackett, fresh starts will be granted to every member of his squad as they gear up for a potential return, most likely in the form of a play-off.

That means the Blues will need to be fast out of the traps if they are to achieve promotion to the Championship.

And that's why the boss will be casting a careful eye over those players who look the fittest, who look the sharpest and whom he believes are best suited to ensure Pompey yield a return to the second tier.

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Paul Downing has had fewer opportunities than most this season – although Jackett’s been impressed with his work-rate during football’s shutdown.

Despite signing a three-year deal upon his free-transfer move from Blackburn last summer, the centre-back has been well down the pecking order for the most part.

Downing’s not featured in League One since the draw against Burton in September and has been left out of numerous match-day squads.

There were occasions when striker Oli Hawkins was used as a makeshift defender at his expense.

Meanwhile, midfielder Tom Naylor has dropped into the backline to help fill in when needs must.

That’s left Downing nowhere to be seen.

Given Jackett’s longstanding admiration of the centre-back, it’s a surprise he has been frozen out in such a way.

The manager obviously has his reasons.

And assessing the stats of Pompey’s centre-halves’ performances, there appears to be just cause.

First and foremost, Jackett wants his centre-backs to be rugged, robust and domineering.

On countless occasions, he’s stressed the importance of his side dominating both boxes and being aerially resolute.

Yet that’s an area of Downing’s game that has been found wanting this season.

According to stats compiled by Wyscout, the ex-Doncaster man has won 50 per cent of his aerial duels at an average of 5.56 per game - which is less than his counterparts.

Sean Raggett comes out on top, with 68.7 per cent of his battles in the air successfully negotiated at an average of 10.1 per 90 minutes.

Christian Burgess, who has enjoyed his best season at Fratton Park, has won 65 per cent of his aerial duels (8.13 per game) this term.

And while Jack Whatmough has made just two appearances this campaign, last season he displayed his quality when winning defensive headers.

His stats showed 69.7 per cent of his battles were won at an average of 8.87 per 90 minutes.

In terms of overall duels won, here’s also an area of Downing’s game that requires improvement.

This campaign, the 28-year-old has proved victorious in 59.1 per cent of these battles, which is lower than Raggett (62.8), Burgess (64.1) and Whatmough (68.4).

Nevertheless, Downing’s stats in terms of interceptions provide encouraging reading.

He averages 6.92 interceptions per game in League One this term (9.46 on loan at Doncaster last season), which is more than than Burgess (6.25) and Raggett (5.13).

Meanwhile, Downing’s passing accuracy of 82.3 per cent is also ahead of the competition.

Before he arrived at PO4, Donny fans raved about the ex-West Brom man.

He emerged as their standout defender – ahead of highly-regarded duo Tom Anderson and Danny Andrew.

Clearly, Downing is a talented League One centre-half.

But an improvement in his aerial capabilities is required if he’s to win over Jackett.