League One A: Portsmouth v Sunderland (0-1 agg.)


Advantage Sunderland


Sunderland just about deserved their 1-0 first leg victory over Portsmouth.


The Black Cats enjoyed the territorial advantages for much of the contest, with Lee Cattermole a battling influence in midfield and target man Charlie Wyke causing carnage in the box.


George Honeyman, tireless all night and involved in the best passages of second half play, will feel he could have put Jack Ross’ side in front following Lynden Gooch’s left-wing cross – but he was denied by an outstanding Craig MacGillivray save.


Then, Chris Maguire made the difference with a sumptuous strike from the edge of the area; he had to recline slightly to give himself time to connect with Matt Clarke’s defensive header, then volleyed the ball into the corner with remarkable accuracy.



Sunderland then had to dig in for the final 23 minutes after Alim Ozturk was sent off – Gareth Evans’ free-kick hit the woodwork before Luke O’Nien blocked Viv Soloman-Otabor’s effort.


The Wearsiders may have to find themselves on the right side of fine margins to an even greater extent on the South Coast, because we know that Portsmouth will play with fearless determination.


Second half show from south-coast side?


Kenny Jackett’s side are at their best when playing at full pelt.


When they try to break teams down over long periods of possession they tend to struggle, because they do not necessarily possess the control or creativity in midfield to look good in slow-tempo affairs.


Once the tempo increases, that is when they start to bring target man Oli Hawkins into play early, get Jamal Lowe running directly into the final third or allow Ronan Curtis opportunities to float balls into the box.


In the first half of games, Portsmouth are more restrained – they have only scored 33 league goals before the interval this season, the fifth-most in the division.


In the second half of games though, they have scored 50 goals – the joint-most in the division – that’s when they come alive.


After the interval, Pompey are either counter-attacking their opponents or playing with a sense of having nothing to lose – either way, the more helter-skelter nature of the post-interval encounters suits them going forward.


If Jackett’s men struggle to break Sunderland down in the opening period and go in behind on aggregate, we can almost guarantee that in the second half, they will be driven on by the home crowd, they will be first to every second ball and they will give Sunderland the sternest defensive examination that they have had all season.


Expect them to come good after the break.


League One B: Charlton v Doncaster (2-1 agg.)


Charlton’s lead


Charlton Athletic were deserved winners in the first leg at the Keepmoat Stadium; although the fact Lyle Taylor could not quite convert from close range in the second half, combined with a late Doncaster Rovers goal, means the lead they take back to London is 2-1 rather than a more comfortable cushion.


If we are nit-picking, Lee Bowyer might not necessarily make the substitutions he chose if placed in the same situation again, as his side missed the mobility of Albie Morgan and Josh Parker when centre-back Krystian Pearce and experienced holding midfielder Darren Pratley came on.


Overall, though, it was a strong performance from Bowyer’s boys, who executed the wing-back system well.


They did not play with width in the classic sense but Taylor – despite being top scorer with 22 league goals – has the selflessness to occupy the channel and that acts as a prompt for midfielders like Joe Aribo, Josh Cullen and Morgan to break into advanced areas.


There is a seamless symmetry about the Addicks: the rotation of movement is very well co-ordinated and that makes them a serious threat in transition.




Doncaster have a chance


Doncaster Rovers have done themselves proud this season; 2018-19 has been a huge success, whatever happens.


Matty Blair’s late consolation in the first leg gives them hope of extending their campaign to a final game at Wembley – but they looked suspect at the back for much of that game.


Grant McCann encourages his defenders to show a certain calmness and that has certainly helped their possession play this term.


Against Charlton, one or two of those defenders were perhaps too calm and slow to react to dangerous scenarios – the reluctance to close down was a major problem.


Of course, Donny threatened twice before Charlton’s two-minute double-salvo with James Coppinger forcing a save from distance and Danny Andrew’s free-kick finding the woodwork, but it was only Blair’s goal from close-range that could be described as a clear-cut chance.


Other than the goal, Rovers mustered just one shot on target and were largely restricted to shots from outside the box.



McCann needs to do something to switch things up and make them harder to read.


Getting wide forwards, left-footed Mallik Wilks and right-footed Kieran Sadlier to swap sides might help them create more width, especially up against a narrow diamond that will be intent on congesting play centrally.


Otherwise, it is easy to see centre-backs Naby Sarr, Krystian Bielik and Patrick Bauer dominating John Marquis, who was surprisingly quiet in the first leg.


Unless Donny can devise a new strategy very quickly and pull it off to maximum effect, Charlton look good value to get the clean sheet that would guarantee their progression to Wembley.




Half-Time/Full-Time: Draw/Portsmouth

Doncaster not to score


Odds are correct at the time of posting

Join the discussion