The sacrifice Danny Cowley may have to make to resurrect Portsmouth’s play-off hopes with Ipsiwch, Sheffield Wednesday, Plymouth, Sunderland and Co ahead in top-six race

Danny Cowley might have to make one key sacrifice in order to resurrect Pompey’s hopes of reaching the play-offs.

By Sam Cox
Tuesday, 25th January 2022, 5:36 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th January 2022, 5:37 pm

Indeed, 25 days into the new year and the Blues remain without a league win from their four games played.

And that leaves the Pompey head coach in a predicament.

Sign up to our Portsmouth FC newsletter

Does he decide to go defensively resolute under the current preferred formation?

Or does he go savvy in attack during the second half of the season with striker Tyler Walker leading the way?

There’s no doubt a third option exists which would appeal not just to Cowley but the Fratton faithful as well – both of the above.

But this moment in time, it seems Cowley’s options are restricted as he continually attempts to strike the right balance.

Pompey have scored twice in their past five league games. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/

The former Lincoln boss earned praise during the early weeks of the campaign by opting for a 4-2-3-1 system for his south-coast tenure.

Pompey opened up with three consecutive victories without conceding against Fleetwood, Crewe and Shrewsbury, which had sections of Blues fans licking their lips at the prospect of a potentially strong campaign.

But such adulation quickly dissolved when the system, all of a sudden, began to look ineffective and unlikely to produce the goals we all crave – resulting in a slide down the table.

Once again, calls for a recognised No10 began to surface as the Blues lacked the creativity and cutting edge going forward that turns games.

That’s not sustainable for the long term when Pompey score one goal a game on average when using a back four, while conceding 0.58 goals.

Hence the switch to a 3-4-2-1 formation, which has now been rolled out 14 times in League One this season.

Cowley’s pursuit of wing-back specialist Denver Hume suggests this system is central to his Pompey vision moving forward beyond the current transfer window.

However, recent failings suggests it too is failing to achieve the consistency he’s been searching for.

Read More

Read More
Portsmouth transfers: Why former Sunderland and Southampton striker Kevin Philli...

Clearly, there were a number of teething problems when the system was first used against Plymouth and Charlton, with four goals conceded in total.

Goals started to flow at the other end, though, with the Blues picking up 2-2 draws against the Addicks and Pilgrims.

And while the 4-0 humiliation against Ipswich must also be taken into consideration, Pompey’s impressive league form started when Cowley switched formation.

The Fratton chief resorted back to 4-2-3-1 in the away draw with Accrington in October, but returned to his wing-backs away at Lincoln a few weeks later, where he put his old club to the sword.

On average, the club has scored 1.35 goals and conceded 1.07 per game when this utilised, which, once more, hardly makes for warm reading.

Indeed, none of the averages and stats presented set the world alight, with the goalscoring statistics while operating a back three just edging that of a back four system – and vice versa when defensive records are presented.

So, the decision Cowley needs to make is: does he protect his side’s goalscoring ability, while being more open at the back?

Or does he seek defensive stability to sneak into the play-offs?

However, with the acquisition of Carter being closely followed by Hume’s arrival – Cowley may have found the missing pieces of the jigsaw for the club to flourish in a 3-4-2-1.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

Get 30 per cent off our sport subscription, which gives readers unlimited access to all our Pompey and grassroots coverage for just 9p a day, by using the promo code JanSports30. The deal expires at midnight on January 31.