|Portsmouth 0 v 0 Barnsley|
SkyBet League One
Saturday, 23rd February 2019 Kick-off 15:00
Pompey 0 Barnsley 0: Could we be part of the race for second place?
Saturday, 23rd Feb 2019 21:13 by Steve Bone at Fratton Park
I remember working out after we beat AFC Wimbledon on New Year's Day that we had 20 games left, and if we could win 11 of them we'd have enough points (90) to be sure of automatic promotion. It almost seemed too easy.
Nearly two months on, we've not managed one of those 11 wins. We've managed a measly five points from five successive draws (and incidentally, when was the last time that happened?) which followed three straight defeats.
Using the same maths, we'd now need 28 points from the final 12 games. At least we would to get 90 points. Very unlikely, I think you'll agree. But will we need 90 to finish in the top two, and are we capable of coming full circle and returning to the form that took us clear at the top in the first half of the season.
Let's not escape the fact that the past few weeks have been shocking. Painful to watch at times. Some tepid home performances, some woeful defending, mostly away from home, and no real sense that it was just a blip. I'm not sure of the definition of a blip but I'm not sure one can last eight games.
But against Barnsley, there were some positive signs – clear ones that perhaps a corner had been turned. It was, in my opinion, significantly better than the abject display turned in by almost the whole team four days earlier against Bristol Rovers.
Against the Gas, Pompey's players looked frightened to receive the ball and anxious to get rid of it as soon as they could, which led to far too many aimless long balls forward or stray passes. Fluent football it wasn't.
But with the Tykes in town, the Blues seemed to get their self-belief back. I thought they grew in confidence as the game went on. I don't know if it was all the talk of Mick Kennedy (and what wonderful and fitting tributes to Scully they were) that fired them up but they did again look tigerish in the tackle and showed a sureness of passing, a purpose in their movement, that's been missing for a while.
Suddenly a number of players were back on their game. Tom Naylor was awful against Rovers, I thought, but excellent against Barnsley. With Ben Thompson now part of Pompey's history, Naylor simply has to keep playing like that at the heart of the midfield if we're to have any chance of salvaging some success.
Ben Close was one of the few to come out of Tuesday night with credit and did well again here. And what a performance by Christian Burgess – showing the very best way to silence the critics is to do nothing whatsoever that can possibly attract criticism, even from your harshest judges.
If Pompey can keep finding the level they found when putting Barnsley under pressure, particularly in the second half, then 2018-19 could still end in promotion.
As I see it we're now in a four-way battle for second place. Until very recently I was convinced Luton would run out of steam but to their credit they are showing no signs of that and could soon be out of our reach.
But are Barnsley just starting to show one or two signs that they may have had their best spell? They could only draw 0-0 with Burton on Tuesday and here they could not score, and rarely threatened to, against a team that had not kept a clean sheet since December 8. No-one could have left Fratton thinking the Tykes had been good value for a win, and most would have them a little fortunate to go away with a point.
Pompey simply have to keep Barnsley within reach points-wise. The gap is five points at the moment, and Sunderland are three points ahead of the Blues with one extra game to come. The two sides immediately above Pompey meet at Oakwell on March 12.
If Pompey can get their first win in two months at home to Bradford next week, then avoid defeat at Charlton and win at Walsall on the night the Black Cats visit Barnsley, it will be very much all to play for.
For that to happen we have to hope that at least a couple of our attacking players hit the sort of form they all seemed to be in at once before Christmas. As to what the first-choice combination up front should be, I really don't know.
I like Omar Bogle, I like Viv Solomon-Otabor, I like James Vaughan, I like Bryn Morris. I may well like Lloyd Isgrove too but I've not seen him yet. But do I think any of them are better than the players in their positions we already had? No.
If I were Kenny Jackett – and I say this assuming he is not suddenly going to weaken and play two up front, one of whom is the club captain – I would give the Lowe-Evans-Curtis-Hawkins quarter another go against the Bantams, with Bogle (who may still not be 100 per cent fit), Viv, Morris and Vaughan on the bench.
The arguments over where it has all gone wrong for Pompey this season can wait, if you ask me - though if promotion is missed and those arguments do start, I think you can say the departure of Ben Thompson (now being very underused by a struggling Millwall) can account for about 60% of our early-2019 problems.
What we have to hope for now is the sort of late-season surge we have seen plenty of times before – most recently in 2017 in a run that led to that glorious final-day League Two title win – to get us back in the race. Because in my opinion, anyone who's given up already may have done so too soon.
Pompey: MacGillivray; Walkes, Burgess, Clarke, Brown; Naylor (c); Curtis, Close, Morris, Solomon-Otabor (Lowe 77); Bogle (Vaughan 84) Subs not used: Bass, Haunstrup, Donohue, Evans, Hawkins Referee: Charles Breakspear Attendance:18,624 (1,944 away fans)
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