FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his views on Sunday's televised encounter between Portsmouth and Rotherham.
Portsmouth v Rotherham | Sunday 3rd September 2017, 14:30 | Sky Sports
Ten years ago, Portsmouth were four games into a campaign that would result in an eighth-placed finish in the Premier League and an FA Cup victory – their first major trophy in 58 years. How the mighty can fall when certain personnel get given too much autonomy and power, eh?
Pompey’s plight was well documented but the South Hampshire are on the up again. Two years ago they were beaten play-off semi-finalists in League Two – he first time in eight seasons that they'd finish higher than the campaign before. And progress continued with a League Two title triumph last time out.
Boss Paul Cook opted to head back to familiar Lancashire territory in the summer and Portsmouth arguably snapped-up a more impressive manager in Kenny Jackett, out of work following a 39-day spell with Sunday’s opponents.
Many presumed the momentum of promotion to prove a catalyst for another strong campaign with top-six honours mooted but it was never going to be an easy transition. Whilst Cook’s preference is for patience in possession and persisting with the same 4-2-3-1 system, Jackett prefers a bit more variety.
Expectant supporters haven’t been too enthused about August. Portsmouth picked up only five points (W1-D2-L1) from four games, often lacking penetration. Pompey’s only triumph came against 10-man Rochdale on the opening day and they were fortunate to claim a point at Wigan last week.
Pompey yet to fire
Summer signing Brett Pitman has scored three of the four goals Jackett’s charges have netted but with no third-tier team firing in fewer on-target efforts (10) and only six clubs managing fewer shots, it’s easy to see why the club haven’t kicked-on just yet.
Jackett has continued Cook’s 4-2-3-1 legacy – more out of necessity, rather than design – but the Pompey head said this week, he now has the versatility in his squad to employ a change in formation following the arrivals of left back Damien McCrory, midfielder Stuart O’Keefe, winger Matty Kennedy and striker Oliver Hawkins on deadline day.
Injury issues are also beginning to clear for the Fratton Park club. Matt Clarke has trained all week and is contention, leaving Drew Talbot as the only player left on the treatment table. Gareth Evans is suspended but Nathan Thompson could make his debut at right back with Jackett still pondering whether to play three at the back.
Millers away day struggles
I was pretty negative in my ante-post assessments of Rotherham. It’s far too early to be reviewing such claims as the Millers’ performances have been chalk and cheese.
Paul Warne’s side were well beaten at Fleetwood on the opening day but seven days later blew Southend away 5-0 at the New York Stadium. United were described as “unplayable” after that success however, a sloppy reverse at Peterborough and a woeful reverse against Charlton have followed.
Such results have extended Rotherham’s joint-longest winless run on the road to 27 league fixtures (W0-D3-L24). Last weekend’s defeat marked the worst display of 2017/18 as the team lacked energy and quality, and was compounded by the season-ending to summer signing Jamie Proctor.
David Ball is back to feature but there are doubts over Will Vaulks and Lee Frecklington but veteran defender Richard Wood could earn a recall with the Millers’ defensive frailties exposed in the opening weeks. The visitors have shipped exactly two goals in three of their four league games thus far.
Rotherham do have the energy and counter-attacking ability to cause opposition outfits plenty of threat, and in Kieffer Moore, a forward with the physicality to at least occupy defenders. However, I have to question their resolve and mental state when away from their South Yorkshire base.
The betting angle
Five of the eight games involving both clubs this season have featured Under 2.5 Goals winners but the 13/14 (Unibet) on a repeat doesn’t quote scream value, to me.
However, I do think this encounter could take time to ignite. So the 11/10 (Paddy Power) available on the first goal being scored after the 28th minute has piqued my interest.
When excluding Rotherham’s freak 5-0 thumping of Southend, only three first-half goals have been scored in seven collective games involving this pair. Indeed, Wigan’s early strike last time out is the only goal to be scored before the interval in Pompey’s four outings.
Portsmouth v Rotherham – First goal to be scored after the 28th minute (11/10 Paddy Power)