Portsmouth are in excellent form and look on track for a strong tilt at promotion, so Gabriel Sutton discusses why the board have been vindicated in their faith in manager Kenny Jackett...
Shot data was there
In Pompey’s first seven matches, they averaged 1.45 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game, the sixth-highest rate in League One and 0.89 Against (xGA), the fourth-best defensive data in the division; these gave them a Ratio (xGR) of 61.91%, League One’s third-best.
As we pointed out in our prior article regarding the controversy surrounding Jackett’s position as boss, they were having a high-volume of shots.
Of course, there were some issues with creating clear cut chances and managing leads with overly defensive tactics, which Jackett needed to address.
Since that point, though, they have averaged two points per game, a better record than every other League One side.
Right characters in
Jackett’s tactics have brought him long and successful tenures at Swansea, Millwall and Wolves, but they can also be made to look outdated when the wrong personnel are in place.
That was arguably the case early in the season, when a languid-looking John Marquis started up top every week while a midfield trio of Tom Naylor, Ben Close and Gareth Evans looked rather flat and uninspiring.
Ellis Harrison has added some much-needed energy and persistence since coming in for Marquis – although the latter has sharpened up his act lately too - while regular starts for Andy Cannon have given the midfield a more vibrant, dynamic feel.
Kenny Jackett has previously led Wolves and Millwall into the Championship
McGeehan and Seddon have helped
Cameron McGeehan, a League One promotion winner with Barnsley last season, has also boosted the midfield with his boundless energy.
McGeehan arguably suits Pompey’s setup, because not only does he apply himself correctly – which he needed to do to thrive in a two-man midfield with the Reds – but he also loves to break forward in transition and his positivity is opening some doors.
Steve Seddon has also massively enhanced the squad in an area that had been problematic in the first half of the season.
The likes of Brandon Haunstrup and Anton Walkes have deputised at left-back with limited success and even Lee Brown, when fit, is limited in how he can contribute going forward when players ahead of him are marked out of the game.
Steve Seddon, highly rated at Birmingham, has made a difference with his brave forward runs, accurate crossing and at times, aggressive pressing.
In fact, Pompey’s seven-game winning streak in all competitions has coincided with Seddon’s arrival on loan.
The 21-year-old has a wand of a left-foot, which enables Jackett’s side to execute their corner routines with care and precision, rather than the “stick it in the mixer and hope” thinking we saw before his arrival.
Michael Eisner and the board should be credited for backing their manager to bring in players who will help him execute the style of football he wants.
Curtis back on song
Ronan Curtis was enduring an underwhelming first half of a mid-November FA Cup First Round clash at Harrogate, but then the Irishman scored a long-range belter out of the blue.
That goal certainly gave him confidence for the rest of that evening in north Yorkshire - a 2-1 win - and might have been a turning point in his own individual campaign.
Having scored three goals in 16 club appearances before that night, he has since scored 10 in 15.
There has been a real vigour about Curtis’ game in recent weeks as well as the magic he can produce, which makes him a prize asset in Pompey’s promotion push.
One person who is on the receiving end of criticism on a weekly basis is Kenny Jackett. Today, you simply cannot do anything but praise him. He got it right from start to finish. #Pompey are unbeaten in 2020 and that’s their 6th win in a row. Credit where it’s due. Our manager 💙 pic.twitter.com/dD9G19LQvy— Liam Howes (@djliamh) January 25, 2020
Portsmouth’s home record, this season, has been outstanding.
Jackett’s side have accrued 29 points from 13 encounters at Fratton Park and are the only League One team to be undefeated on familiar soil.
Recent victories over Rotherham, Ipswich and Wycombe in Hampshire have been crucial to getting their promotion push on track.
Pompey need only another 14 points from their final 10 home games to match last season’s return, so there is evidence to suggest they are improving when it comes to breaking teams down on the south coast.
Having the luxury of being able to choose between Marcus Harness and Ryan Williams on the right of the attacking quartet certainly helps while the defence is starting to take shape, after back-to-back wins to nil with a centre-back pairing of Christian Burgess and Sean Raggett.
We are in some form, fair play Kenny Jackett, he’s turned this season around completely— Man With Beard ⚡️ (@RyanHudson2009) January 28, 2020
If one had to pick out the two best managers in League One in the last decade, they would likely say Simon Grayson and Kenny Jackett.
The latter has overseen promotion from this level with Millwall and Wolves, leading the Midlanders to 103 points – the highest third-tier return since records began.
Some would point out the budget Wanderers had that year due to parachute payments, but if it was all about money then why did Sunderland fail to win promotion last season?
Jackett did some excellent work, too, at Swansea and his work in his first two seasons at Fratton Park should not be forgotten.
Overseeing a Play-Off push in 2017-18 whilst shaping a freshly-promoted squad to his taste, was no mean feat – and 88 points last season was a fantastic return that would have been enough for a top two berth in three of the previous seven campaigns.
The fact Portsmouth have stuck with Jackett means they are going into the run-in with an experienced manager who has tasted promotion before – the wily campaigner fully deserves an opportunity to led them back into the Championship.