UNEXPECTED victories over Hull City and West Ham United, coupled with the comprehensive demolition of Ipswich Town, have instilled a level of confidence which simply wasn’t present a fortnight ago.
However, Portsmouth have developed an unwelcome tradition of throwing a spanner in the works. Our inability to seize the ascendency following a Martin Paterson equaliser, a little over 18 months ago, ranks as a key moment in our unsuccessful battle against Premier League relegation. More recently, a draw at Turf Moor in April ultimately condemned ourselves to another season in the Championship.
“After everything that has gone on this week, the three points were crucial” admitted manager Michael Appleton, after last weekend’s victory against Coventry City. Just like the Premier League fixture in February 2010, issues away from the football pitch are likely to dominate those on it.
A first half penalty from Greg Halford gave Pompey a lead at the break last weekend, for only the second time this campaign. They are notoriously slow starters, and so an opening period like that against Ipswich Town should see ourselves head to the AMEX Stadium, next Saturday, looking for victory number five.
As with West Ham United, the formation of Portsmouth will have two moments. Defensive transition will see ourselves faced with 4-5-1. George Thorne will act in a holding role and look to disrupt our offensive transition. He will offer support in front of the defensive line.
Offensive transition will see a predictable, percentage-orientated, normal 4-3-3 wherein just one winger offers support to the attack, and thus the main threat will come through the centre. With Erik Huseklepp coming in from the left, Ben Mee will once again be able to operate from a more central position during defensive transition, in order to flood central areas.
I fully expect ourselves to be faced with a team willing to place 10 men behind the ball, and look for ourselves to take the initiative. As a result, we will enjoy the majority of possession. This will no doubt be emphasised by the deployment of Dave Kitson as a lone striker. He will be the primary outlet for long balls and thus, if Michael Duff and David Edgar can double up, he will be prone to relinquishing possession.
I would advise against reverting to a normal 4-4-2 tomorrow. In a nutshell, a key advantage of such a tactic would be the threat posed by wide players such as Keith Treacy, Ross Wallace and Junior Stanislas. However, the 4-5-1/4-3-3 adopted by Portsmouth would allow for a small tweak by Appleton, in order to turn the tide in his favour. For example, given his three inner midfielders, a simple instruction to adopt defensive full backs would enable his attack to come from wide positions. Our offensive threat would be limited, and, in all likelihood, both teams would cancel each other out.
I would, therefore, suggest the possibility of 4-4-1-1. This allows for an extra man in midfield, whilst keeping the same two lines of play, visible in a normal 4-4-2. Our full backs can overlap, without the threat of succumbing to a counter-attack, as a result of the two holding midfielders.
If we deploy Rodriguez as a withdrawn forward, which I believe is his natural position, he can provide a numerical advantage anywhere along the defensive line. This would make him nigh on impossible to predict in the offensive third. In defensive transition he can apply pressure to any opponent in possession. This can lead to a quick turnover of possession.
With three of our next four games at Turf Moor, December may go some way to determining the direction of our season.