Winter resolve will reveal more than Pompey's sunny start

They say don't bother looking at the table until Christmas.

Thursday, 15th September 2016, 11:00 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:19 pm
Paul Cook will want his side to improve on last season's form during the tough winter months. Picture: Joe Pepler

But, seven games in, League Two is starting to have a very predictable feel to it.

And it wouldn’t be a great shock to see the early-season pacesetters go on to be the teams in the contention when it reaches the business end of the campaign.

For Pompey to be there, though, they are going to have overcome one of their greatest shortcomings last term.

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Much was made of the inability of Paul Cook’s side to string three consecutive league wins together until April.

There was a factor, however, which was arguably more detrimental to their aborted effort to make it out of the fourth tier of English football at the third attempt.

It was almost a year ago Pompey went to Bristol Rovers and cemented their unbeaten league start with a victory which had them peering out from the League Two summit.

A warm afternoon and win at the Memorial Ground had Cook’s men sitting pretty off the back of an opening which had showcased their free-flowing football.

There was a feelgood factor about what lay ahead as Pompey fans made their way back along the M4 that balmy evening.

But, three days later, the first defeat of the campaign arrived as Exeter’s uncharacteristically defensive display reaped three points at Fratton Park.

That came as we headed into October and Cook’s men moved into the rump of the season.

It was to be a crucial section which, on reflection, desperately let Pompey down.

Back then, Cook spoke about the tests presented to his men when the pitches began to churn up and the winter chill kicked in.

The Blues, when you look at the stats, came up well short in that period.

The 23 games from October until February represent half of the league fixtures – and no team in the top 10 of the table picked up a lower return in that period than Pompey.

The 33 points accumulated was well short of that delivered by the sides who went up automatically.

And the fact all the teams down to Cambridge in the table harvested a better return between October and February is telling.

Northampton’s phenomenal run of 19 wins, two draws and two defeats saw them accumulate a whopping 59 points.

That was 15 clear of Oxford’s 44-point return (13 wins, five draws and five defeats) with the U’s also contending with a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and FA Cup run.

Bristol Rovers’ 40-point haul (12 wins, four draws and seven losses) was the pre-cursor to a six-game winning run, and 11 wins and two draws over the season’s finale.

Accrington’s 40 points (12 wins, four draws and seven losses) was comfortably in front of Pompey, Plymouth hit 44 points (13 wins, five draws and five defeats) with AFC Wimbledon grabbing 39 points (11 draws, six wins and six defeats).

Even Leyton Orient, who fell away after setting the early pace, collected 34 points in that time with Carlisle picking up 37 and Cambridge 34.

There weren’t many who picked up fewer defeats than Cook’s side (six) but the nine draws hit their return hard, with eight wins arriving.

Even if it is still an embryonic stage of the season, we can begin to see a form to the table as it takes some shape.

But Plymouth won’t be getting carried away at sitting top, as they remember being five points clear last term before hitting the wall when you need to put in the hard miles.

And the same should go for Pompey, who can afford themselves some quiet satisfaction at their four-game winning run in the league.

You can expect Cook’s side to do well when the sun shines, though.

It’s their ability to show resolve through the hard winter months which will prove telling this time.