How did you get into supporting Portsmouth?
Well, there’s no real special story here really. As a kid growing up, from a very early age, I was always pictured wearing Pompey replica kits, sporting the baby bibs and wearing the knitted blue hats. Growing up, I used to always listen to the games in the Premier League on the radio with my Dad and his side of the family on the weekends. Pompey’s plummet down the leagues came at the time of me growing up and entering my early teenage years and, despite having attended the odd game here and there, I never really had the money myself nor anyone close to me willing to go, to take me to the matches. I did eventually get to go to matches, via a Pompey-mad uncle between 2010 and 2012, before he moved to London. After the first season in League Two, and two seasons prior having to take myself to the games I could afford to on the rare occasion, I finally made regular Fratton Park appearances while selling a popular kid’s fanzine ‘The PUP’ before home matches for two seasons to gain free entry into the ground. I bought my first season ticket in 2016, ready for what would be the League Two title-winning season, having decided that I no longer wanted to work for my ticket, and could now afford to buy my own seat, and then also started to go to away games too. I have not missed a home game now since the pre-season of 2014, and have been to every competitive game for two years running – a Thursday night away tie at Doncaster which was also broadcast live on Sky in January 2017 – was the last game I missed. I now, having grown up listening to the games on the radio, am part of the Express FM ‘Pompey Live’ team, working alongside host Liam Howes and Blues legend Alan Knight to broadcast games home and away to listeners back home – immensely proud knowing that I used to be one of them!
How has your season panned out so far?
Well, it’s been fantastic so far and to be honest we’ve been punching well above our weight! After a disappointing end to what was a great season nonetheless last time around, expectations for this season were simple – a solid campaign ending in a cemented play-off spot. However, as you’ll know, Pompey had a superb start to 2018/19 and did not lose away from home until we came up against Gillingham on Boxing Day. We held top-spot between September 29th and January 29th, which has really lifted expectations amongst the fans and a recent slump, which has seen Kenny Jackett’s side slip horribly into third, has divided many. No one, fortunately to my knowledge, has called for the gaffer’s head yet and rightfully so, any call of that would be absurd to say the least, but it does seem as though either one of two things could now be happening – either a minor blip (hopefully), or a sudden reality check that in-fact, we may not be up there with the best 2 or 3 teams in the division. Nonetheless, we are in a great position at the current stage and are certainly exceeding expectations but it has to be said, missing out on the automatics after the season we have had so far, would be nothing short of devastating!
And how did the January transfer window go?
Much, much better than last January – although that’s not difficult to top. Last January, the Blues were in dire need of new faces, most notably in the midfield. Yet on the stroke of 11pm with the window about to slam shut, news of a new imminent signing started to whet the appetite of fans all over the South only for Nottingham Forest keeper Stephen Henderson to be announced on loan until the season end – a goalkeeper, who really was not needed whatsoever! Oh, and he got injured on his second appearance and Pompey had to play winger Kal Naismith in goal for the closing stages of a 2-2 draw with Doncaster at Fratton Park. We never saw Henderson in a Pompey shirt again. However this season, we certainly improved on the misery of last. Despite losing a key figure in Ben Thompson, who was the cog in the heart of the Blues midfield and was recalled by parent club Millwall, Pompey actually replaced him. Some fans will describe him as irreplaceable, which I do not totally disagree with, but the additions of Andy Cannon (Rochdale) and Bryn Morris (Shrewsbury) certainly showed signs of intent from both owners and management to go on and bolster the squad going forward. Unfortunately, a string of injuries mixed with cup-tied games has meant the new faces have lacked game time so far at Fratton and so fans have seen very little of them thus far. The Blues also had a frantic final four days of the window. With Joe Mason, Andre Green and David Wheeler all being recalled to their parent clubs, as well as Danny Rose securing a move to Swindon on a free. Replacements were needed, but things were looking dire until, out of nowhere, Omar Bogle joined the club on loan from Cardiff City on Monday the 28th. Following that, another surprise addition in attacking midfielder Lloyd Isgrove linked up with Kenny Jackett and the squad on Wednesday the 30th from League One promotion rivals Barnsley, before two even more out-of-the-blue signings joined on Deadline Day – striker James Vaughan on loan from Wigan Athletic and winger Viv Solomon-Otabor on loan from Birmingham City. In the end it turned out pretty well! Omar Bogle has looked impressive and has scored two in two, while James Vaughan’s lone sub-appearance so far seems to have pushed him on to the right side of the fence with the Pompey fans. We are yet to see anything from Lloyd Isgrove, who picked up a minor knock in training this week and is out for this weekend’s clash, and Viv Solomon-Otabor too – he could finally be in contention to face Argyle.
Pompey are fairly low down on the current form table, is the team suffering a dip?
Certainly. We haven’t won a league game since New Years Day and even that was hardly convincing – a narrow 2-1 home win against struggling AFC Wimbledon. Since then, the side has endured three FA Cup ties, including Tuesday’s fourth-round replay loss to QPR at Loftus Road on Tuesday night, and a string of injuries and players returning to their parent clubs. They all may seem like excuses but when piled together, it’s easy to see why the team may be unsettled and disjointed. I am confident now, however, with the team beginning to settle and new players starting to gel a bit more, that the side can find their feat and recover the season. I feel that once we get that all important league win that confidence will return and we will go back to being a feared team again. Losing defensive unit Jack Whatmough for the remainder of the season could be pivotal though!
What tactical style do you perceive you’re playing right now?
Some would see it as “hoof-ball” and I guess those people would be correct. We seem to be lumping it up to our big man up-top (Oli Hawkins), for him to touch, control and draw defenders away from our main attacking threats, who this season have been wingers Jamal Lowe and Ronan Curtis – not forgetting Gareth Evans in the no. 10 role. Because of this, Brett Pitman has been left out for the majority of the season. He has a decent goals-to-minute ratio when he has played, coming on for the odd sub-appearance, but he is certainly not suited to our current game plan. Hawkins has received plenty of unnecessary stick this season for not scoring enough goals but the way I see it, although it would be nice to see him put away more chances, it’s not actually his main job to score goals – which may seem odd considering he is our designated starting striker, but his strengths lie in bringing the whole team around him into the game and it’s the goals that have been shared around the squad which has seen Pompey’s success this season.
Are there any players who have stood out especially this season?
Oli Hawkins, for the exact reasons stated above. The lad deserves more recognition than he actually gets and it was evident of the last month or so that we have missed him through injury, because when he returned on Tuesday against QPR, we saw that positive Pompey play that we have seen all season. Unfortunately, just not the result to go with it.
And any real weak links you’re worried about?
The defence, if I am honest. The loss of Jack Whatmough will play a huge part in the remainder of the season. Although having said that, even with him in the side we haven’t kept a league clean sheet since December 8th which came against Southend at Fratton Park. Conceding no goals against Plymouth will be a big ask, but something we have been waiting for for a long time now and is certainly our weak point.
Who or what comes to mind when you think of Plymouth Argyle?
Derek Adams – the “rivalry”, if you can call it that, between the two clubs of late has been a fun journey and one guy who has seen all of that is your current Scottish gaffer. From his feuds with Paul Cook in League Two and his continuing comments towards Pompey, the name Derek Adams is one which makes the skin of every Pompey fan crawl when mentioned – even vice-captain Gareth Evans once said in an interview that he did not particularly like the man. It’s all fun and games, though, and evidently he isn’t a half-bad manager, and he has definitely helped to bring this game to life. I’ll never forget his excellent excuse when Plymouth were struggling at home due to the clash of green between the home kit and the stadium seats. I was lost for words!
Which Argyle player, if any, would you like to sign?
Sonny Bradl… Oh wait.. No not at all, even if he did still wear the distinguishable green jersey. No, to be honest, I haven’t paid too much attention to Argyle of late to know who has been the standout performer of the last two seasons – the club has become less relevant in comparison to the previous few seasons to Pompey fans anyway. I remember back in League Two that Graham Carey was the man to fear for you guys, but then our version of him was Gary Roberts and he’s long gone and I’m led to believe that Carey hasn’t quite hit the heights of those Division Four days although I may be wrong. I believe there was a rumour floating around that we were interested in one of your forwards, Freddie Ladapo? Again, I’m not sure how much truth is in that but from that I have seen and heard of him, I certainly would have taken him here but in all honesty I don’t think there are any standout players in the Argyle team that I would want to see play in blue, especially after our strong Deadline Day dealings!
How do you see the rest of the season panning out for Portsmouth?
Again, confident that we can regain that confidence to win games again but to do so, we need to find that first win to kick-start what Kenny Jackett has described a “sprint finish” til the end of the season. We have seen it before here at Pompey at around this stage in 2017, we were 6th and somewhat 20 points behind leaders Doncaster Rovers in League Two and, well, I’m sure you know what happened in May of that year.
And how about for Argyle?
Well, it’s been another resurgence in form for you lot hasn’t it? Rock-bottom towards the start of the campaign and suddenly on a rapid climb up the division, crazy how history can repeat itself. Though saying that I don’t think the season will end as crazily for you as it did last. If Plymouth finish above Pompey again and/or come anywhere near the play-off positions, then surprised would be a huge understatement. I’d bet my entire future life earnings that it wouldn’t happen. Saying that, I think you will be safe from the drop, there are certainly weaker sides in the table down there this year.
And finally a prediction for the game?
I’m going for 1-1. Although I am quietly confident that Pompey can go on and challenge again for those top-two automatic places, a win soon is needed, I don’t think this fixture will provide that turning point. We always seem to struggle here at Home Park and Plymouth always seem to be awkward opposition. On my only two visits down here I have seen Danny Rose’s extra-time screamer cancelled out by a late goal of your own, Connor Smith the scorer, in a 2-2 draw in 2016 and a boring 0-0 back in April of last season. I can see this being yet another draw between the two sides in Devon, this time though, a different scoreline! If anyone were to snatch a win though, and I think the word “snatch” would perfectly sum it up as I believe we are in for a close game then I can see it being Plymouth. 3rd on the form guide over the past 5 matches compared to Pompey, who would sit 18th if the league only started last month. Confidence seems to be low here despite what the boss will tell us in the press-conferences, and the uprising of Plymouth yet again will probably come to haunt us much like it did at Oxford recently too.
Author: Joshua Pope
Josh features on our weekly Green & White podcast and manages our digital presence.