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Match Preview: Portsmouth vs Dale
Thursday, 27th Feb 2020 08:08 by AtThePeake

The fixtures don't get any easier for Dale as they make the long trip to Fratton Park on Friday night to take on promotion-chasing Portsmouth.

Date: Friday 28th February
Kick-off: 7.45pm
Venue: Fratton Park
Remember a few weeks ago, when I claimed that things were looking a little rosier for Dale fans after some improved performances and results against Bristol Rovers and Doncaster Rovers? That seems quite a long time ago now, doesn't it?

Lacklustre performances against Sunderland and Coventry City since have yielded zero points and now we're set for another two difficult fixtures against two more promotion-chasing sides with a trip to Portsmouth followed by a home fixture against current league leaders Rotherham United.

And to make matters worse, Tranmere Rovers scored a 95th minute winner in their midweek trip to Shrewsbury Town to cut the gap between Dale and the relegation zone to a mere seven points, with the Super White Army all set for a trip to the Crown Oil Arena in a pivotal six pointer in just a couple of weeks.

After the defensive horror show that occurred at Sunderland, it was Dale's lack of attacking impetus that frustrated supporters in the home defeat to Coventry City last weekend. Bar a couple of half-chances for Henderson and Aaron Wilbraham's goal that came from a hopeful ball upfield, Dale really struggled to cause any problems to the Sky Blues backline and succumbed to an almost inevitable loss as a result.

The issues have been similar all season as Dale's patient, possession-based approach at times lacks the forward thrust required to put opposition teams on the back foot and that was very much the case in the Coventry game. A lack of forward options around the ageing Henderson was an issue that was raised all the way back in August and yet here we are, at the end of February, continuing to bemoan the same problems that have persisted throughout the campaign.

The issue for boss Brian Barry-Murphy here is that very few individual players are deserving of criticism. In the forward line, little is expected of 40 year old Wilbraham beyond this season, Henderson is deserving of legendary status with the club and across the midfield and defence, most players are generally perceived to be of the standard required to compete well at this level... so it's only natural that any frustration from the stands is aimed at the manager, despite his inexperience and clear desire to play attractive football.

The calls from the messageboard appear to demand that Barry-Murphy tries some variations in this style and that has proved effective at separate times this season - but as an overarching philosophy, his is one that the club seem happy to progress with, so don't expect to see major changes coming any time soon.

As such, you have to expect Dale to struggle once again here as they take on a Portsmouth outfit that have lost just one of their 25 home matches in all competitions so far this season (and that was against Premier League opposition in the shape of arch rivals Southampton).

On the injury front, Callum Camps returned to the squad last weekend but Aaron Morley and Ollie Rathbone were conspicuous in their relative absences. Eoghan O'Connell and Kwadwo Baah were both withdrawn in the first half of the defeat to Coventry - it remains to be seen whether either will be considered fit enough to play in this one. Ryan McLaughlin is also set for another spell on the sidelines after suffering a fitness setback in a behind closed doors game.

Dale's record against the better sides in the division has left a lot to be desired throughout this campaign and given how strong Pompey appear to be in front of their vociferous home crowd it could be a long night for Brian Barry-Murphy's charges down on the south coast on Friday night.

Portsmouth's slow ascent back up the Football League pyramid after their dramatic tumble through the divisions is slowly gathering some pace now, despite last year's play-off semi-final defeat at the hands of Sunderland.

The Black Cats went on to lose the final too last year, against Charlton Athletic, and now both sides find themselves in the hunt for a top six finish again. As things stand, Pompey sit in 5th place - just two points behind the Wearsiders - with five points separating them from Dale's last opponents Coventry City, who occupy the second automatic promotion slot as things stand.

Pompey's strength throughout this season has been their incredible home form. In 25 matches at Fratton Park in all competitions, they've lost just one - although most of their supporters will have longed for a victory in that game in particular, against arch-rivals Southampton in the EFL Cup, more than any other.

With promotion still very much on the cards despite a shaky start to the season for the Hampshire outfit, Kenny Jackett is looking set to win round the Fratton Park faithful once again, which is impressive given the tumultuous relationship he has shared with supporters during his time at the club.

Portsmouth have an impressive record against the Dale, losing just one of the previous 12 meetings between the club and winning five of their six since Kenny Jackett took over back in 2017 - his first game in charge was a 2-0 win over Keith Hill's side in the opening fixture of the 2017/2018 campaign.

Given that Pompey were FA Cup victors as recently as 2008 (lifting the trophy on the same day as Dale secured their first ever visit to Wembley by beating Darlington in the play-off semi-finals), playing Rochdale in league games may seem something of a fall from grace.

However, it's fair to say given promotion from League Two has since been secured and given that another promotion into the Championship is a very real possibility this season, it does appear that the Pompey are taking incremental steps to steadily play their way back to the top table of English football.
_________ _______________________________________________________________

Milton Keynes (h) - WIN
Fleetwood Town (h) - LOSS
Exeter City (h) - WIN
Shrewsbury Town (h) - WIN
Coventry City (a) - LOSS

Coventry City (h) - WIN
Sunderland (a) - LOSS
Doncaster Rovers (a) - DRAW
Shrewsbury Town (h) - WIN
Milton Keynes (a) - LOSS

02 Dec 2018 - Rochdale 0-1 Portsmouth - FA Cup
13 Apr 2019 - Portsmouth 4-1 Rochdale - League One
23 Nov 2019 - Rochdale 0-3 Portsmouth - League One

Photo: Action Images

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