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The Chairman & Old Sage's View on Being a Pompey Supporter, Life & Everything Else  ...

Old Sage’s thoughts

Not long now until we know if we’re going to Wembley yet again. 

To get there of course we have to turn over a one goal deficit from the first game, obviously not insurmountable but it will be a tough task. 

The first leg was very disappointing and our lack of threat just showed how much we rely on Pitman. He is the player who can link everything up and make us a potent force. He has to play in the second leg, whether he is 100% fit or not. I get the feeling that he will play, all the reports of him and Brown being doubtful are worrying, but maybe a bit of a smokescreen. Jackett has “form” for this, players being injured and then suddenly appearing on the teamsheet. Let’s hope that’s true. 

Brown is not so much of a worry as we have a good replacement in Walkes although Brown does give the natural left footed balance. 

Turning round a deficit in the play off semi finals is a very tough task. Across all 3 divisions it’s been done once since 2013 (Fulham last year). That perhaps shows the task we have. We can do it, but it will need everybody playing to their potential, and not the type of abject display on show in the first leg. 

Curtis is still the worry for me, he just hasn’t shown any form since his finger incident and has to start on the bench as far as I’m concerned. Somehow I doubt that he will though. 

Keep those fingers crossed for a magical night under the Fratton lights. 

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So we’ve reached ‘half-time’ in the playoff semi-final against Sunderland and we’re still in with a shout but neither set of supporters can be over confident about the seeming lack of form of either side and the likely outcome.

Saturday night was a poor game and arguably there were just two highlights...the Sunderland goal (obviously not a highlight from our view) and Evans free-kick that hit the bar. 

From our perspective it was difficult to know what to expect after we threw away the game against Peterboro and then the ridiculous team selection against Accrington that cost us third place...Jackett trying to be clever, never a great recipe it has to be said! He complained about the team lacking firepower after picking a side with Hawkins up front! 

I think it was always going to be the case that we returned home on Saturday night still in the tie and you can’t argue that we didn’t achieve that objective. As the ‘second-half’ on Thursday evening sees us a goal down with ninety minutes, possibly 120 minutes to play, not to mention penalties, we are very much in this game. 

It’s no good us canvassing for a bold approach because that simply isn’t Jackett’s style. Indeed, in this instance, he may be right, because I expect Sunderland to come out of the blocks fast with a view to getting a second goal that would leave us with a mountain to climb. 

Team selection? Well reading between the lines I fear we are unlikely to have Pitman available as hamstrings simply don’t clear up overnight. Brown failed a fitness test on Saturday so he is more likely to be available to play; although Walkes did well on Saturday, Brown is very accomplished in that key position and Walkes on the bench is a genuine asset because of his versatility, especially if the game goes to extra-time. The rest of the defence and the central midfield picks itself. Lowe and Curtis must start because they are proven match winners. I suspect that Evans will get the nod and leaves us with our lone striker and, to be frank, it’s not much of a choice between Hawkins and Bogle and, if anything, is where we might be found out. 

I’m not overly optimistic but we can do it. The only unknown is can we score twice against them and that is assuming we make no silly errors and the officials do their job because I fear that their ‘wind up merchants’ have the edge on ours!

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Disappointed? Bloody sure I am! 

Surprised? Not really, I didn’t expect to get this close and even then I didn’t expect it to end the way that it did.

For all of that it has been a season to remember and it’s not over yet, not by a long way. 

Most seasons it easy to work out where it went wrong and why, to date, we have been denied to prize of the Championship and playing with the big boys instead of the likes of Fleetwood, Accrington, Wycombe and Rochdale. We are no exception if you look back to losing against Gillingham twice and throwing away a three goal lead at South end a couple of months ago. We took four points off Sunderland, three points off Luton (somehow or other), just two off Barnsley and none at all against Charlton. 

In many ways it’s a lot simpler than that because our campaign broke down in to three distinct parts...an unbelievable start  (if somewhat unsustainable and at times quite fortunate) that saw us at the top of the table for the best part of four months and very short odds for promotion even before Xmas...inexplicable relegation form in Jan/Feb when we failed to win in nine league games...and then undefeated in nine games (including eight consecutive wins) that came to a sad end on Tuesday night where, quite frankly, we threw the game away in some kind of blind panic! 

Fans may think that we’re unlucky but when push comes to shove the table doesn’t lie and there were teams that were better than us. If you look back just three months to (possibly) finish third is quite an achievement. But it is vital that we do win on Saturday to get the supposed advantage in the play-off semi-final against Doncaster or Peterborough...an odious little team schooled in the arts of gamesmanship, cheating and bullying of inexperienced officials by son of Fergie!  It seems that 95% of Pompey fans want at all costs to avoid Charlton over two legs; a team that this time last year went out a bought a quality striker. 

If we don’t get promotion via the back door then there will be three months for recriminations but overall we’ll have to put it down to a near miss and ‘go again’ as someone used to say.  

That said there is a fundamental reason why we fell short and if it had been remedied I’m confident that we would have won automatic promotion. Having finished comfortably in the top half of the table twelve months ago the often much maligned KJ remodelled the squad by bringing in six quality players for a very modest outlay; that’ll be Curtis, Brown, Naylor, McGillivary, Thompson (on loan), Walkes and Dennis. This was fantastic business on a ridiculously small budget while retaining prized assets such as Matt Clarke and Jamal Lowe. For a club that gets close to 20,000 gates this was bargain basement stuff and KJ deserves a lot of credit for this work. 

So why didn’t we run away with the championship?  

Arguably there were two reasons. One was the negativity of outdated predictable tactics that hardly ever changed week in week out irrespective of who we were playing, home or away. The other was the failure of Jackett/Catlin and the unambitious ownership to bring in a quality striker well before the January transfer window while we persisted with a non-league striker with a proven finished sat in the stand. When you score 82 league goals this can, and at times did go,  unnoticed but that was because of all round strength with everyone chipping in, Lowe, Curtis, Evans, Close etc. 

Our last manager had a blind spot about the importance of the goalkeeping position and it seems that KJ is in the same boat when it comes to goalscoring strikers! 

As the intermediate period of complete loss of form kicked in in combination with the loss of Ben Thompson and , to a lesser extent, Andre Green, we moved from the bargain basement and at the last minute we dipped into the bottom of the pond and came up with a couple of ‘names’ in Bogle and Vaughan but it was already too little too late, largely because, in part, they simply weren’t fit or in any kind of form. Such a shame because a sensible investment nine months ago could by now already seen us dreaming of playing Nott’m Forest, Villa, Sheff W etc. Easy to be wise after the event, I know! 

The repachage, otherwise known as the play-offs, well let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t be gambling against us. Get through the two-leg semi and I’d fancy against anyone in a Wembley showpiece. Onwards and upwards. 

PUP

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Please note that the views expressed in this column are my personal views not those of IOWPS



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