Blues Look to Return to Winning Ways and Maintain Away Form at Pompey
Friday, 20th Dec 2019 12:51
Town visit Portsmouth on Saturday looking to get back to winning ways and to continue League One’s best away form against a Pompey side yet to be defeated at Fratton Park this season.
The Blues have taken 23 points from their 10 League One away games up to now - seven wins, two draws and one defeat - more than anyone else in the division. Rotherham, second in the away form table, have taken 20 from 11 matches.
In contrast, at Portman Road the Blues have picked up only 13 from their nine games and are 16th in the home form table. Last week they were beaten 2-1 by Bristol Rovers, their third League One defeat of the season, and their second at Portman Road.
The Blues are currently without a win in four league games but remain second, seven points behind leaders Wycombe, who are at Oxford United on Saturday. Their last league win was at Rochdale on November 5th. In all competitions, Town have won just once in their last 10 over 90 minutes.
Reflecting on the disparity between home and away form, manager Paul Lambert said: “That can happen. It’ll still be a really tough game.
"Portsmouth were top of the league with 40-odd points and Sunderland were second [after 19 games last season]. I think Luton were [third] and they went and won the league.
“It’s a long, long way to go and as I’ve said before you don’t win anything in December, but we’re in a good position and we’ve still got a game in hand, but our away form has been very, very good.”
Pompey, who eventually dropped away from top spot last season and finished fourth before losing to Sunderland in the play-off semi-final, made a poor start to this campaign but have found their feet more recently.
Prior to last Saturday’s surprise 4-1 loss at Accrington - the only team to have beaten Town on their League One travels - Kenny Jackett’s side were unbeaten in 10 in all competitions with a six-game winning streak included in that run.
However, they remain 10th, eight points behind the Blues, despite the pre-season expectation that they would be one of the challengers towards the top of the division.
“But again, why do people think they should be up there?” Lambert continued. “It’s tough, it’s a really tough league. Kenny’s done a really good job there in the time he’s been there and the crowd are probably getting edgy and nervy and all those sorts of things after missing out last year.
“We have to go down there and play our normal game and if we dominate the game then maybe their crowd might change.”
Despite their underwhelming early season form, Portsmouth remain unbeaten at home in all competitions, winning five and drawing five of their League One games at Fratton Park, which has sold out for Saturday's match.
Lambert added: “The atmosphere is good there. I’ve been there a few times, so I know exactly what it’s like.”
Among those Town will face is former striker Ellis Harrison, who Lambert sold to Pompey in the summer just a year after the Welshman had moved to Portman Road.
Asked whether the 25-year-old, Pompey's joint-top scorer having bagged eight goals this season after netting just once for the Blues in an injury-hit 2018/19, was simply a player he didn’t take to, Lambert said: “That’s football. You never have grudges against anybody. I don’t think I’ve ever really fallen out with anyone as a manager, I don’t think I’ve had that. I just try and be honest with people.
“Ellis was finding it hard to break into the team and people move on, and people stay at clubs. Portsmouth is his club now, I know he’s been in and out of it, so people move, and people stay.”
Quizzed on whether he expects Harrison to want to make his mark on Saturday following his summer exit, Lambert added: “I don’t know. I’ve done it myself being a player and I never went out there with intent because it was my old club.
“I went out there to play for the team I play with. I think that’s all gone. Those days are gone with people wanting to make a mark on somebody else. It’s a small mentality that.”
Second-guessing Lambert’s side for Pompey isn’t easy, particularly with one eye presumably on the following games in a run of four matches in 12 days, however, with skipper Luke Chambers back in training after his neck injury, the Blues boss could return to 3-5-2.
Tomas Holy will probably keep his place in goal with Chambers perhaps in the centre of the back three with Luke Woolfenden on his right and James Wilson on the left with Luke Garbutt and Janoi Donacien, who is over the illness which saw him miss the 2-1 defeat to Bristol Rovers, the wing-backs.
Flynn Downes has been an all but ever-present in central midfield and is likely to be partnered by either Andre Dozzell or Cole Skuse - who seems likely to be rested at times over the Christmas period - and probably Jon Nolan.
Up front, Lambert could return to the Kayden Jackson-James Norwood partnership but with Will Keane probably involved from the bench and also likely to start other games over the festive period.
Gwion Edwards will be back in the 18 after his one-match ban after reaching five bookings, while Freddie Sears could also travel and may be in the matchday squad for the first time this season having played two U23s games as he makes his comeback from his ACL injury.
For Portsmouth, who usually line-up 4-2-3-1, Lee Brown has undergone achilles surgery, joining fellow left-back Brandon Haunstrup, who has had a meniscus operation, on the sidelines.
Central defender Christian Burgess returns from a one-match suspension and striker-turned-centre-half Oli Hawkins is available having missed last week’s thrashing at Accrington due to the birth of his first child.
Centre-half Jack Whatmough is on the way back after a long-term knee problem but seems unlikely to be involved against the Blues, while midfielder Bryn Morris remains out having undergone abdomen surgery.
Manager Jackett is looking for significantly better defending than at Accrington last weekend.
“That has to be addressed – whether it’s tactical or with personnel – and try to bounce back on Saturday,” he told the Pompey club site.
"Before last Saturday at Accrington we’d built up some real momentum and so we can’t let that one game stop us.
“We don’t want a repeat of how we played there – particularly defensively – but the emphasis in training has been on Ipswich.
“They’re recently a Championship side and will be looking to get straight back up. Those expectations and their ability will, I’m sure, see them competing all the way through the season.
“The attendance is going to be a big one and it’ll be a great day if we can bring the fans into play by producing a really positive performance.
“We always analyse the opposition, but my thoughts are mainly about my own team and trying to put another run together.
“Before last Saturday at Accrington we’d built up some real momentum and so we can’t let that one game stop us.”
Historically, the Blues have won 19 games between the two clubs (18 in the league, one in the League Cup), 12 have been draws (11 in the league) and Pompey have won 12 (nine in the league plus three FA Cup ties).
The teams last met in January 2016 when Town’s FA Cup run ended at the third round stage for the sixth successive year as the 10-man Blues were beaten 2-1 by then-League Two Portsmouth, featuring future Town defender Adam Webster, at Fratton Park.
Former Blue Gary Roberts netted a penalty in the 32nd minute, then Marc McNulty added a second five minutes later to give Pompey a comfortable 2-0 half-time lead.
After the break, Ainsley Maitland-Niles pulled one back before Piotr Malarczyk was sent off for two bookable offences.
At Portman Road 10 days previously, sub Ryan Fraser netted a late equaliser for the Blues when his freekick somewhat fortunately beat everyone to find the net in the 88th minute.
Tommy Oar had put the Blues in front in the 53rd minute prior to Kyle Bennett and Conor Chaplin hitting back on 55 and 86 to briefly give the League Two side the lead.
The teams most recently met in the league in the Championship in the 2011/12 campaign when Town won both games 1-0, Keith Andrews netting the goal at home and Michael Chopra at Fratton Park.
The Portsmouth squad includes former Blues strikers Brett Pitman and Ellis Harrison. Pitman joined Pompey from Town in the summer of 2017, while Harrison moved to Fratton Park this summer for £450,000.
Saturday’s referee is Brett Huxtable from Devon, who has shown 61 yellow cards and two red in 18 games so far this season.
Huxtable’s last Blues game was the 3-1 Carabao Cup defeat at Luton in August, in which he booked Josh Emmanuel - having conceded a penalty - Alan Judge, Jordan Roberts and Armando Dobra as well as one Hatter.
His only previous Town match prior to that was the on-penalties Carabao Cup defeat at Exeter last August in which he booked Jonas Knudsen, Toto Nsiala and one Grecian.
Squad from: Norris, Holy, Donacien, Garbutt, Kenlock, Chambers (c), Wilson, Woolfenden, Nsiala, Skuse, Dozzell, Downes, Huws, Nolan, Judge, Edwards, Georgiou, Jackson, Keane, Norwood, Sears.
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