As a Pompey fan I believe this is an opportunity to be promoted that cannot be missed. If you were to predict the play offs at the start of the season, you would find very few people predicting a play-off scenario without Sunderland, Peterborough and Ipswich, with the only reason most would exclude them is because of the assumption they may have been promoted automatically. Oxford United and one of Fleetwood Town or Wycombe Wanderers stand between Pompey and the second tier. A play off scenario that will be played in strange circumstances with no fans in attendance and after 3 months of no competitive action for all clubs involved.
It is a huge opportunity for Portsmouth, otherwise they risk being stuck in the third tier. Next season, I would be surprised if Sunderland do not challenge for automatic promotion, Ipswich will be a better side and if Peterborough can keep hold of key players, or at least reinvest well then, they will be challenging again next season. Blackpool have had a poor season this season and they will want to change that for next season. One of the promoted clubs normally challenge, which means a Swindon, Crewe, Plymouth or whoever wins the league two play-offs may fancy their chances of racing through the leagues. Furthermore, you then must worry about who is coming down from the championship, with Luton likely, and they will be managed by the man that was so successful with them before, in Nathan Jones. Whoever else comes down will hold ambitions of going straight up.
If, Pompey do not go up this season, they risk being trapped in the league like Sheffield United were. A valid comparison because of the similar stature of both clubs. You could be forgiven for thinking ‘well Sheffield United are not doing too bad now’. You would be correct, but that process did not start until Chris Wilder became manager when they were in league one.
A man, which Portsmouth’s hierarchy thought at the time was a poorer managerial candidate than Richie Barker. That went well.
However, before Chris Wilder joined, Sheffield United had been relegated to the third tier in 2011, which meant they would play in the third tier, for the first time since 1989. A big club for the third tier, you could say a bit like Pompey. However, they found it hard to get out of the division with 3 failed attempts in the play-offs and they spent 6 successive seasons in League One, until Chris Wilder led them to promotion with 100 points in 2017. I do not want to spend 6 years in the third tier, Pompey need to be aiming for the championship and achieving that dream.
If you were to tell me back in September of 2019, when I was watching a drab performance in an away defeat to Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park, with chants of ‘we want Jackett out’ filling the Buckinghamshire air in the closing moments of the fixture, then I would have not believed we’d be potentially three games away from the Championship with no Peterborough, Sunderland or Ipswich to play. The start of this season, saw Portsmouth only win 5 of their 15 league games, however an upturn of form saw them move up the table into the play off places and two points behind second placed Rotherham before the season was curtailed.
Do not get me wrong, the teams in the play offs all possess a threat and with Pompey’s play-off record, you would find few Pompey fans feeling confident going into the play offs. If you are a Pompey fan you know the play offs and our beloved club are not a match made in heaven. In their history, Pompey have had 3 previous play-off appearances, against Leicester City, Plymouth Argyle and Sunderland. In the 6 play-off games that Pompey have played they have won none. Not the best record, to say the least.
The 1993 Leicester play-off was before my time, but as I have learnt Ormondroyd was offside, however the linesman did not see it that way. A 1-0 away defeat and a 2-2 home draw saw Pompey exit in the play-off semi-finals in 1993.
I was at the game in Plymouth 2016, to witness Peter Hartley score the winner in the final moments of the second leg and watched on as Plymouth fans invaded the pitch. Plymouth did not go up that season, I might add. Also, it is not a derby. Anyway, that is another story. The result was another elimination from the play offs.
Then we come to last season’s play off encounter, which saw a Chris Maguire goal give Sunderland a 1-0 lead going into the second leg, and a disappointing 0-0 draw at Fratton Park saw Sunderland go to Wembley. More on the second leg later in the article. The result though was another elimination from the play offs. Therefore, most Pompey fans might be forgiven for not being confident going into these play offs, but it does not reduce the importance of the occasion for Pompey and for the manager Kenny Jackett.
Kenny Jackett’s Portsmouth tenure has all been played out in League One, after Paul Cook departed for Wigan, having just won the League Two title with Pompey. The two seasons before the current one has seen Pompey finish 8th in the 2017/18 season, 5 points off a play-off place and 4th last season after spending a large proportion of the season at the top of the table, however the inability to get a central midfielder as a replacement for Ben Thompson after he was recalled by Millwall, impacted the results in the second half of the season. And a disappointing play off display saw Pompey’s season end in a whimper.
Kenny Jackett has been a successful manager in the past, no one can deny that. He has achieved promotion from League Two with Swansea City, he won the League One play offs with Millwall in 2009, reached the semi finals of the FA cup with Millwall in 2013, and won the League One title with Wolverhampton Wanderers with a division record of 103 points, which led to him being the joint-winner of the LMA Awards Manager of the Year for League One. In his time at Pompey, he was won the Football League Trophy and is in the final this season of the same competition.
However, in this era of fans wanting to be entertained as well as see their team win, the football his Portsmouth side sometimes put on display is difficult to watch and so are some of results over the last few years, lets look at a few.
If I were to mention Southend away, most Pompey fans would know the game I was talking about. 3-0 up after 31 minutes, away from home and 3-1 up going into the last 15 minutes, an easy win – surely. However, this is Pompey, come full time the final score is 3-3 and what seemed like a guaranteed 3 points was only 1.
The play offs last year, saw Sunderland win 1-0 in the first leg at the Stadium of Light. In the second leg Pompey were going to need to win by one to at least take it to extra time so when you’re a getting to the closing stages of a must win game, why wouldn’t you use all your full allocation of substitutes. Especially with one of the potential substitutes being first team regular Ronan Curtis, who had made 34 league appearances and scored 11 league goals only one short of Portsmouth’s top scorer in the league, Jamal Lowe. But, no, a 0-0 draw was played out, when surely every Pompey fan would have been prepared to throw everything at Sunderland to try and score and would accept the risk of conceding in the quest for the all-important goal. It was not the case, Pompey lost nicely, and that day Jackett lost, I believe a large part of the fan base.
Then we looked at this season, and the Coventry game at Fratton Park is at the forefront of disappointing performances. When Gareth Evans put Pompey 3-1 up after 56 minutes and with Coventry going down to 10 men moments later you would struggle to believe what would happen in the remainder of the game. Matty Gooden scored a 75th minute penalty, but minutes later Coventry were down to 9 men. So, Pompey were 3-2 up against 9 men with just over 10 minutes to go, then in the 86th minute Michael Rose equalised leaving Fratton Park stunned. A series of games when Pompey conceded late goals led to Pompey dropping more points with late equalisers conceded late on against Bristol Rovers and Oxford and a late winner for AFC Wimbledon saw Pompey drop points, which plagued Pompey’s early season. Missed and dropped points like this have led to Pompey having a play-off place rather than being in the top two based on the Points Per Game placings.
If you asked me in one word to describe Kenny Jackett’s Portsmouth side it would be, Pragmatic. There are probably different words that some fans would use, but I try not to swear in these articles. Regarding footballing style, Paul Cook and Kenny Jackett are opposite ends of the spectrum. One believed in playing it out from the back and playing the ball on the ground, the other believes in percentage football and to take a no risk approach. Both can be successful and in an ideal world a mix of both styles depending on the game situation is probably the best approach. Pompey fans can be hard to please and I include myself in this. I have moaned on occasions about watching some games under Paul Cook, where on occasions it felt like watching a tennis match, watching the ball go from side to side across the defence and midfield as every league two team set up to just frustrate. However, when it works the football was beautiful and a pleasure to watch and a great advert for the fourth tier of English football. If you have not seen it, watch Portsmouth’s goal against Bournemouth in the FA cup fourth round in 2016, it is a masterpiece, a demonstration of how the beautiful game should be played and a great summary of what Paul Cook’s Pompey side tried to achieve in their play.
However, Paul Cook’s side was probably hindered by playing in the fourth tier, where teams would set up to defend and try to take a point, which could lead to a mundane affair. It would have been interesting and intriguing to see Paul Cook manage a Pompey side in League One, with opposition teams being a bit more adventurous, I believe we would already be in the Championship if this were the case. However, Kenny Jackett’s approach was probably more apt for the League Two years where we could have benefited from trying to win the second balls to try and trouble the League Two stubborn defences.
Back to the matter in hand, I believe Pompey need to make the most of this opportunity and if we were to fail I believe that should see the end of a Kenny Jackett led Pompey, as the team would need fresh ideas and a new approach to try and achieve promotion at the 4th time of asking in League One. However, I do not believe the club will sack Jackett even if we were to exit in the play-offs. Therefore, the likelihood is if we were not to be promoted this season is another season of football under Kenny Jackett.
All sides involved in the play-offs will recognize the opportunity they have in front of them, but surely Pompey will do it this time around and end the years of play-off anguish.
Best of luck to the manager and the players and fingers crossed Pompey do it and that this season can still be a successful one. Play up Pompey!!!