The Sheffield United way, Millwall man's impact and those Portsmouth qualities you can’t coach - the final Plymouth Argyle verdict
There were a few surprises sprung as Pompey rescued a late, late point in a high-octane meeting with Plymouth Argyle. Here’s what we learned from the 2-2 draw at Fratton Park.
The Sheffeld United way
It was a brave, brave decision - but one which looked set to ultimately send Pompey to defeat and condemn Danny Cowley to the worst run of his managerial career.
Instead, the call could end up shining a light on an avenue the Blues boss is keen to explore, and may just offer the kind of boost his team’s season needs.
Cowley’s switch to a back three against in-form Plymouth Argyle was a high-stakes manoeuvre, no doubt.
To adopt the formation change at just two days’ notice against opponents who are well established at playing a back three themselves was a big call to make, especially without the presence of an established left-sided defender in the injured Clark Robertson.
Perhaps it also gave an insight into how drastic Cowley deemed the steps required, after recent performances and results.
So Pompey channelled their inner Sheffield United with a 3-4-1-2 formation which mirrored the overlapping centre-backs employed by the Blades as they stormed to the Premier League two years ago.
The choice to use Kieron Freeman in a back three may have raised eyebrows and even suggested a panic decision to some, but it’s a move Cowley has been toying with and the belief he could do so factored into Mahlon Romeo’s arrival from Millwall.
On the other side of Sean Raggett, was a man who arrived this summer as a reassuring midfielder anchor.
But Shaun Williams played over 100 games as a centre-back in his time at MK Dons, picking up player-of-the-season plaudits in the process.
Both men popped up deep in enemy territory at times, as they grasped what was required of them at short notice.
Elsewhere, Ronan Curtis returned to a striking role he craves and Marcus Harness moved into a central role he’s familiar with. So what looked like square pegs, who are really round pegs in round holes...
Meanwhile, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Joe Morrell dovetailed nicely as Romeo marauded up and down the right flank with Pompey looking bright for long periods.
Yet, the individual mistakes proved costly for the goals as Freeman failed to get purchase on his header as he stumbled, before Williams appeared to get an attempt to charge out and catch Ryan Hardie offside all wrong.The end result was Pompey again being countered on in costly fashion, with goals which were very avoidable conceded.
These are the kind of mistakes which were always likely to arrive at such short notice, but maybe it was a risk with enough reward in other areas to make it one worth taking.
The qualities you can’t coach
For all the analysis which could be afforded a change in shape, there was a much greater influence on proceedings against Plymouth: Pompey’s intensity.
That and a desire to be more proactive in engaging the opponent with penetrative play, resulted in a much-improved display against a Pilgrims side unbeaten in league action since the opening day.
Four wins and two draws ensued to leave Ryan Lowe’s side a win away from moving to the League One summit at Fratton Park.
Yet, it was Pompey who gained a first-half foothold playing with their foot to the floor and setting about their opposition.
Tackles flew in and Cowley’s side played like they knew they had a point to prove after recent disappointments.
As a result, the home crowd reacted positively to what they were seeing after airing their frustrations at the weekend against Cambridge United.
It was almost worth Ronan Curtis and Marcus Harness picking up needless booking deep in the Plymouth half to show the crowd they were fired up.
Behind them, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Joe Morrell both played with a spiky edge, which endeared them to supporters who’ve always valued combative commitment to the cause over some of the game’s sweeter science.
Crucially, Cowley’s team were keen to make things happen.
While on Saturday Pompey moved the ball from side to side in front of Cambridge’s comfortable low block, this time the desire was to play at pace - but also through the opponent.
True it didn’t always come off, but the fact there was a greater bravery about the Blues’ passing encouraged rather than frustrated supporters - and created a more vibrant Fratton occasion as result.
Pompey fans wanted a striker and got a right-back: but what a right-back he’s shaping up to be.
Mahlon Romeo served more notice of his Championship quality, with another shining display against Plymouth Argyle.
The deadline day signing from Millwall may not have arrived cheaply, but Danny Cowley didn’t hesitate in pushing the boat out to bring in the 26-year-old when the opportunity presented itself.
Before Callum Johnson’s exit, the right-back position seemed amply covered with Kieron Freeman’s summer arrival.
But the extra mobility the Londoner offered was an attraction, and now fans can see why that was the case.
It’s been back-to-back man-of-the-match displays, with Romeo’s drive offering much of the forward-thinking intent which contributed to Pompey’s best football.
The end action may not have always been right, but was that the delivery or movement in the box? Either way, the incisive running certainly was present and encouraged supporters.
It’s easy to see why the Antigua and Barbuda international was attracting seven-figure bids a year ago from Championship suitors.
Now the challenge for Romeo is to build momentum from the regular football he was denied, and maintain the level he’s reached over the past two games.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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