Kenny Jackett’s Portsmouth have made an excellent start to their League One campaign and EFL geek Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) examines whether they could be Championship-bound.
One To Watch – Portsmouth to play up and go up?
Perhaps unusually for a side that had just won a title, Portsmouth spent much of their 2017-18 campaign discovering their identity.
Possession preacher Paul Cook had parted and his replacement Kenny Jackett, adopted a more flexible approach.
During the last campaign, Pompey were glad to have goalkeeper Luke McGee, excellent centre-back Matt Clarke and of course 24-goal man Brett Pitman in situ to make key contributions whilst players adapted.
This year, we are starting to see a more balanced side that relies less on individuals.
The team has good ball-playing defenders like Nathan Thompson and Clarke, yet is not afraid to play forward with purpose where possible and this has made them a real threat in the transitional phases.
Here’s a look at what Pompey have going for them in their latest promotion bid…
They have Jackett
Since assisting Graham Taylor in Watford’s back-to-back promotions, Jackett has managed five different clubs.
Of those, the only one he hasn’t left in a higher division was Rotherham, where he walked out after five games when the board did a U-Turn on their promise of January funds.
Jackett has won three promotions in his career; one of which coming in the Fourth Division with Swansea, two coming at this level with Millwall and Wolves.
At those three clubs, he spent a combined 12 years; it is incredibly revealing that, in the modern era that has chairmen so often looking for reasons to change the manager, Jackett has consistently earnt their faith.
The 56-year-old might not be as big a character as his predecessor, but the quietly-spoken boss is able to control his players in a different way.
Lowe on a high
Wide man Jamal Lowe appears to be getting better with every passing season.
After joining from Hemel Hempstead for an undisclosed fee in January 2017, he was initially a bit-part player, understandably due to the form of his positional competitors.
Since bagging the brace at Notts County that mathematically secured promotion though, his confidence has grown.
Lowe grabbed seven goals league goals last season; a reasonable return for his first full season at Pompey and first outing in League One.
The 24-year-old though is now only two goals away from matching that tally – and we are only in mid-September!
While he has the pace to attack on the outside of his full-back, he also has the knack of popping up into central, goalscoring positions and that unpredictability has made him difficult for defenders to read.
The Brown and Curtis duo
After Enda Stevens made the League Two Team of the Season in 2016-17 before moving to Sheffield United, left-back was perhaps a problematic position for Pompey with various different contenders not quite nailing down the role last season.
Step forward Lee Brown. The 28-year-old has been a key part of Bristol Rovers’ rise over the last four years and, after arriving at Fratton Park this summer, has offered similar intelligence to Stevens.
Although not someone to attack the byline at pace, he does make selfless runs to drag opponents away, thus creating space for Ronan Curtis to thrive.
Curtis has chipped in with five goals, including a brace in the 2-1 win at Blackpool last month, but his quality of delivery from the left channel has also been excellent.
The medical staff are hopeful that the recent injury to Ronan, who limped off in the 2-1 win at Peterborough, will not do any lasting damage.
It would certainly be a blow to Pompey were Ronan to be ruled out for a long period, but it wouldn’t be fatal.
The alternative would be loanee David Wheeler, who starred in League Two with Exeter in 2016-17 and was, perhaps, unlucky not to get more of a look-in at QPR.
In fact, the substitute’s bench for Saturday’s 2-1 win at Peterborough, who Pompey displaced at the top of League One, contained at least five players who wouldn’t look out of place in the Championship.
Joe Mason has played to a reasonable standard in the division above while Ben Thompson, loved at Millwall for his tenacity and commitment, has made a solid start to life in Hampshire.
Whereas last season, Pitman was the striker who at times single-handedly carried Portsmouth through arduous encounters, this year he’s second choice to target man Oliver Hawkins.
If anyone either becomes unavailable of drops out of form, Jackett has excellent options to turn to.
They can win it
Between now and mid-December, Portsmouth’s only opponents currently in the top six will be Walsall and they have not got a single away trip to a top nine outfit; that’s 13 games in a row they are likely to be clear favourites for.
In the same timeframe, Peterborough, Sunderland and Barnsley all play one another and the latter two face fellow contenders Doncaster; those four teams have a combined seven away trips to top nine opposition.
While the chasing pack will be taking points off one another, Pompey’s biggest challenges will be the hosting of good sides in Charlton and Fleetwood – they also have potentially awkward trips to Coventry and Accrington to navigate – but no fixtures to be overly scared of.
While it is of course still early days, Jackett’s men have a good opportunity to build up a healthy lead before the festive period begins. It would be very surprising if, by the time back-to-back crunch clashes with Barnsley and Sunderland roll around in mid-December, Bet365’s odds on the achieving top honours are still as big as 9/2.
A second title in three seasons looks well within their grasp.
Article published on 17th September
League One 2018/19 – Portsmouth to win outright (9/2 Bet365)