League One Gameweek 39: Portsmouth To Keep Top Two Hopes Intact?6 min read
Shrewsbury’s relegation battle
Shrewsbury Town manager Sam Ricketts was relieved after two late goals saw his side to a crucial 2-1 win over Wycombe.
For much of the contest, the intensity of Salop’s display had not quite been there and they looked likely to lose to the Chairboys.
They upped the tempo for the final 10 minutes as Greg Docherty and Fejiri Okenabirhie, who some fans are hoping to see a bit more of, made positive contributions from the bench.
Docherty’s deliveries underlined the Shrews’ set piece threat, with his free-kick setting up Omar Beckles’ header before all-action midfielder Oli Norburn scored the injury-time winner from the spot.
Nerves of steel from Norburn, especially as Fejiri looked like he fancied it.
Beckles’ goal to salvage a point was huge enough. That spot-kick was mammoth.
Forgettable game. Staring down a nightmare defeat, giant victory.
Plenty to work on, but points all that count. #salop
— Lewis Cox (@LewisCox_star) March 16, 2019
Overall though, this was an unconvincing performance from Shrewsbury and only their fourth league win since Ricketts took over in early December.
It must be said that back then, the former Wrexham boss inherited a clear template for reasonable results, because the diamond formation had worked well under Danny Coyne and Eric Ramsey during the interim period.
Apart from James Bolton getting injured for one game and loanee Josh Emmanuel being recalled by Ipswich, the XI that featured most prominently in that spell has been largely available.
Ricketts has made a lot of alterations to the starting XI and while at times that might have been understandable, there are a section of fans who feel he has slightly overcomplicated matters.
Changing more recently to a 3-4-1-2 has made it harder to find a place for Docherty, who is perhaps at his best wide in a diamond, while it could be argued that Shaun Whalley and Scott Golbourne are a winger and a left-back specialists respectively and lack the range of qualities required to thrive as wing-backs.
This is a stage of the season where there is no time for experimentation – and it is yet to be seen whether Shrewsbury have the unity or tactical coherence to be as competitive as they need to be in these crucial final eight games.
Portsmouth on a high
Next week, Portsmouth are visiting Wembley for the first time since 2010, when they play Sunderland in the EFL Trophy.
That match might not quite bear the significance of an FA Cup Final, but it is significant nonetheless.
The mainstream public have long thought of Pompey as a cautionary tale of the perils of overspending – this is an opportunity for the club to not only play and potentially win at Wembley, but also show that they can be thought about externally in a positive light once again.
It is quite possible that the buzz that the 3-0 Semi-Final victory at Bury created around the club has in fact helped improve their league form, with last week’s 2-0 win over Scunthorpe keeping them in the hunt for automatic promotion with two points gained on Barnsley that weekend.
Although it took Pompey until the 71st-minute to break the Iron down, there was a certain energy and persistence about their performance.
The Solent outfit might not necessarily have a playmaker in their midfield, but they make up for that by keeping the tempo high, posing a strong threat from set pieces and ruthlessly exploiting any errors or misplaced clearances.
Then, once they get that lead, they get more opportunities to hit teams in transition with the mobility of wide forwards like Jamal Lowe; Lloyd Isgrove should get his opportunity on the left, too, with Ronan Curtis and Viv Soloman-Otabor injured.
Target man Oli Hawkins has spearheaded attacks for 26 league games this season, but Jackett had the luxury of being able to drop the target man to the bench and bring Championship-level strikers in Brett Pitman and Omar Bogle into the XI in a switch to 4-2-4.
This is why we must involve Brett in the run in. With Bogle in there we WILL score goals and win games. Whilst I believe 2nd place is unlikely, I think with these two firing we will enter a play off with a great run of form which will give us the momentum. #Pompey pic.twitter.com/OAqJldWXOo
— Wayne Harris (@wayneharrispfc) March 13, 2019
That strength in depth is why Portsmouth have not only scored first goal 24 times this season, they have not lost on any of those occasions and drawn only five times.
Pompey are 31/10 to lead at half-time and go on to claim all three points, something they have achieved in five of their 10 away trips to bottom half opposition.