What simply has to happen now against Oxford United after Portsmouth feel impact of shock formation change against Fleetwood Town

There was plenty to talk about as Pompey rescued a point against Fleetwood on Saturday after their first-half collapse.

By Pepe Lacey
Monday, 28th February 2022, 3:00 pm

Pepe Lacey is joined by chief sports writer Neil Allen to discuss the latest gossip from around Fratton Park, including how influential Aiden O’Brien has been since his arrival in January as well as Danny Cowley’s surprise formation change.

Q: Pompey were involved in a six-goal thriller on Saturday, were you surprised that they were able to come from three goals behind to get a point?

It’s a funny game to analyse, do you focus on how bad they were in the first half, the team selection, the system switch or do you focus and give credit on how they came back from three goals down to get the draw?

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It’s the first time Pompey have come back from three goals down to get a point since August 2015, so that’s six-and-a-half years ago.

It doesn’t happen often so when a team does it you’ve got to give credit to them despite everything that happened before it with the atrocious first half, but you’ve got to give a team credit for coming back from three goals down regardless of the opposition.

You have to praise the team’s character, their defiance, their resolute spirit and they didn’t capitulate. We’ve seen them do that a lot this season, but this occasion they fought back and the players deserve some credit. But there is that nagging thing about how did they get into that position in the first place?

You have two layers to the game, it wasn’t simply a fantastic performance in the second half but a poor first half.

From left: Aiden O'Brien, Danny Cowley, Ronan Curtis and Tyler Walker

Q: The biggest talking point on social media and around the ground was the choice of formation. Were you shocked to see Danny Cowley use a back four for the first time in 16 games?

It was a surprise how they lined up because they had Hayden Carter at right-back, who did very well, Denver Hume at left-back with Raggett and Robertson in the middle.

He played wing-backs for the previous 16 games so it was quite major but he explained it was for tactical reasons, but regardless if people like the wing-back system it was a surprise.

Surely it had to impact how Pompey started the game because they were 2-0 down after 15 minutes with too much space down the side and runners charging into the box unchecked to score with first time shots.

For me the system change was crucial for Pompey’s awful start.

Aiden O’Brien missed out on the starting line-up but he came on and scored his third in three games. Is he the goalscorer Pompey need going forward?

There were four changes, Joe Morrell had to have come into the side after his suspension, Cowley talked about how Louis Thompson was feeling stiff in training on Thursday and because of that they didn’t want to risk him in case he didn’t get injured.

For me, that’s common sense with a player with a wretched injury record like his, Pompey have to treat him carefully so decided not to risk him.

I would've loved to have seen O’Brien start because Walker hasn’t done it for Pompey yet and has been very underwhelming, O’Brien gives them something different.

Not just the three goals in three games, but chances seem to fall for him and again it happened on Saturday, which was a lovely finish.

He appears to have the knack and he just buzzes around, he has to start Tuesday but I would’ve liked to have seen him start on the weekend.

Walker is clearly struggling, Cowley’s put his faith in him and Walker has got a really impressive goal scoring record at previous clubs at this level and has scored 14 goals in the Championship.

He can score goals and we’re not seeing it at the moment, but on another day he could’ve scored two for Pompey.

O’Brien has got something about him and has got an instant connection with the fans, you’d like to see him getting a good run in the side.

Q: Pompey picked up 10 out of 12 points over the past four games but have Oxford, Plymouth, Wycombe, Ipswich and Bolton all to come in March. How crucial is the next month going to be to determine the outcome of the season?

They have 14 games left of the season and it’s going to be a big ask to play that many games in such a short amount of time. I can’t see them getting to the play-offs, it’s a massive ask.

Pompey are 11th and the previous three games they won they didn’t move position which shows the gap, and you’re then hoping that the top 10 are going to capitulate and drops points.

Pompey have to play them but they won’t win them all, so it will be a tough ask to get to the top six.

Danny Cowley is clearly not making any predictions or has expectations of getting to the top six, he’s playing it down.

I don’t see Pompey doing it but they’ve got to get as high as they can, and players have to stack claims to get a new contract and we’ll see how the season finishes off.

It was always going to be a zombie season where Pompey weren’t going to be good enough to get into the top six, and it’s proven to be the case ahead of another rebuild in the summer.

In the meantime they just have to keep getting wins and putting in performances to give us a bit of encouragement for next season.

But ultimately I can not see them getting into the play-offs.

Q: Pompey play Oxford United on Tuesday, it was a feisty occasion the last time the two sides met, are you expecting another close encounter this time round?

It was a really good Pompey performance at their place, gutsy against the wall with 10 men, the sense of injustice and Oxford are looking for promotion.

If Pompey want to close the gap and reach the play-offs they need to win these types of games, and they had to win against Fleetwood because that was two points dropped like Danny Cowley pointed out so we’ll see how it pans out.

This Pompey team is not good enough to get into the top six but let’s see how close they can get to it with big games coming up.

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