Despite coming into the heavily anticipated fixture at opposite ends of the table, high-flying Portsmouth will be looking to end a period of four matches without a win whilst Plymouth Argyle, sitting in 16th, will be looking to record a fifth win in six matches following last weekend’s impressive win over Peterborough.
Portsmouth come into the game short of midfield options with Tom Naylor (suspension), Andy Cannon (quad) and Dion Donohue (ankle) all looking set to miss out.
Bryn Morris (knee) is also 50/50 currently but is expected to partner Ben Close in the middle of the park.
Forward Brett Pitman should return to the side at the expense of Oliver Hawkins following Tueaday’s midweek FA Cup defeat against QPR.
Predicted Line-Up (4-2-3-1)
Walkes, Burgess, Clarke, Brown
Lowe, Evans , Curtis
Style of Play
In a 4-2-3-1 formation, Portsmouth focus on utilising the abundance of pace in their attacking midfield trio of Ronan Curtis, Gareth Evans and Jamal Lowe in order to create chances. Curtis and Lowe both make driving runs down the wing, cutting inside and often look to beat defenders before either crossing the ball to the likes of Brett Pitman or indeed firing off a shot of their own. Both standing at 6ft, the pair are comfortable receiving the ball either to feet or in the air as they’re breaking forward which has proven to be effective so far this season.
Lowe and Curtis have registered a combined 20 goals and 17 assists so far in this season making them two of the hottest properties in League One. The pressure isn’t just on the pair however with Evans (eight), Pitman and Hawkins (both five) also contributing throughout the season with a number of goals.
In transition, Lowe, Curtis and Evans drop back, effectively creating a midfield five with their pace allowing them to switch as necessary. The role of the two midfielders in Pompey’s formation is to press the opposition midfield. In the reverse fixture during the season, Ben Thompson and Tom Naylor were particularly effective at this, quickly closing down the likes of Jamie Ness, Antoni Sarcevic and Yann Songo’o which in turn limited forward passes to forward Freddie Ladapo. This reduced Argyle to long passes which Ladapo struggled to win, but even when he did he had nobody to flick the ball on to. This meant that in turn, Portsmouth gained a lot more of the possession which led to their first half domination.
The standout player for Portsmouth this season has been, without doubt, Ronan Curtis. The 22-year-old impressed with Irish side Derry City last season, which earned him his move to Fratton Park, and he hasn’t looked back. The Englishman has a combined 21 goals and assists (10G, 11A) in League One this season. He has a burst of pace and looks to take on opposition players, and as his stats would suggest he is a team player rather than greedy in front of goal.
A particularly good example of his style of play comes from Pompey’s recent 5-2 hammering of Fleetwood with a pair of Curtis crosses from out wide resulting in goals. Firstly his cross in to Pitman who earns himself a penalty, then two further crosses which set up Anton Walkes and then also Lowe. Given his age, should Portsmouth not gain promotion this season, it is likely that a number of Championship clubs will be after his signature in the summer.
Portsmouth have struggled since midfielder Ben Thompson’s loan was ended and he returned to Championship side Millwall. Whilst Tom Naylor has impressed in the engine room, he has had a host of partners including Dion Donohue, Gareth Evans, Ben Close, Bryn Morris, Andy Cannon and Adam May next to him. Since Thompson’s departure, Pompey have lost three and drawn one of their four league games. With Naylor also serving the first of a two-match suspension, Argyle could look to dominate the midfield.
Kenny Jackett’s side have brought in a number of loans throughout the season with varying success. Whilst Ben Thompson proved to be a valuable asset, the likes of Joe Mason, Andre Green and David Wheeler weren’t quite so successful. With the quartet all now having left, Omar Bogle, Viv-Soloman Otabor and Lloyd Isgrove have all been brought in on similar deals, leaving Pompey with a high turnover of players and making it more difficult for players to gel.
Since forming a rivalry in League Two a few years ago this fixture has always been a cracker and particularly for Argyle fans it will bring back some very fond memories. Form regularly goes out of the window in such a fixture, something which will perhaps favour Portsmouth given their recent run. Derek Adams will be much more aware of Pompey’s attacking threats and like last weekend’s match against Peterborough should set his side out accordingly to combat this. The talent and form of Jamal Lowe and Ronan Curtis can’t be understated however and with a lot riding on this result to remain in the hunt for automatic promotion, I think Portsmouth will edge this 2-1.