When the fixtures were revealed and Portsmouth found out they would start the season facing Shrewsbury, Rochdale, and Wigan, not many people would have predicted Pompey to be sat in the relegation zone after the first three weeks.
Portsmouth fans are understandably disappointed, and even angry, at their side’s start to the campaign, and Kenny Jackett is currently the most unpopular he has ever been at the south coast side.
Pompey came into the league season on the back of wins against Stevenage, on penalties, in the Carabao Cup and Colchester in the EFL Trophy, but since then went three games in a row without scoring before Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Wigan.
One of those games without scoring was a 4-0 defeat in the Carabao Cup against Brighton, but one positive from the first two league games was that Pompey also did not concede. Pompey’s ‘success’ over recent seasons has largely been down to a good defensive record, with just 36 goals conceded in 35 games last campaign before the play-offs.
Despite their lowly position, and fan discontent, there are some signs to suggest that Portsmouth have played well in their opening games as they appear quite high up when it comes to statistics, although these obviously can be misleading.
Only five teams; Milton Keynes (68%), Burton (60.33%), Blackpool (59.66%), Sunderland (58%), and Shrewsbury (55.66%), have averaged more possession than Portsmouth (55.33%) in the opening three games of the season. But MK, Shrewsbury, and Pompey all currently sit in the bottom five of the table.
Only Ipswich Town (3) and Hull City (5) have faced less shots on target than Pompey (7), but then that isn’t a huge surprise. Jackett’s side have only conceded two goals, suggesting the problems are at the other end of the pitch.
Creating chances has not been an issue however, no team has taken more shots than Portsmouth (54) so far this season, but those 54 shots have led to just one goal, a late consolation against Wigan Athletic on Saturday, which suggests these chances have not been clear cut.
Accuracy has been a big problem, with 40 of those shots going off target. 17 teams in the league have not yet even taken 40 shots yet, let alone 40 off target. This may suggest that the shots aren’t being taken from good areas, or perhaps simply that nobody is wearing their scoring boots.
With attacking players like John Marquis, Ronan Curtis, Michael Jacobs and Marcus Harness, Portsmouth have one of the best front lines in the division, one that should be capable of hurting any team, yet Pompey have still managed just one goal in three games.
And they were three games which you would think Pompey should have been targeting nine points from. Rochdale’s only point, and Wigan’s only three points, so far have come against Portsmouth. Shrewsbury have just two points so far. On paper, they could have hardly asked for a more favourable opening.
A slow start is not unfamiliar to Portsmouth though, 12 months ago Pompey were 19th with nine points from their opening eight games but did have two games in hand on most sides. One month on, Jackett’s side had 18 points from 14 matches, but then averaged two points a game for the remaining 21 before the season was cut short, which saw them finish in the play-offs.
Had the season been played out in full and Pompey continued their form they could now be playing in the Championship, if just one of their defeats had been a win they would have finished in second, instead they are now in a similar place to where they were at this time last year.
The possession, shots for, and shots on target against, do suggest that Portsmouth are not that far away from being a side competing at the right end of the table, and last season has shown that Jackett is capable of transforming Pompey’s season, especially as we are only three games in.
Despite this, for many Portsmouth fans, Kenny Jackett has had his chance. Failing in the play-offs two seasons in a row has been deemed not acceptable by a fanbase that largely believes their side should be playing in a higher division.
Winning the EFL Trophy in 2018/19 and reaching the final in 2019/20 – which is yet to be played, is not seen as a suitable alternative to promotion. And fans would probably rather they were knocked out in the group stages if it meant they went on to get promoted.
The atmosphere around the club is not a good one, and the pressure to get results will only increase game by game from a fanbase who want promotion this season. The salary cap will have made things more difficult for the south coast side, but that difficulty is only going to increase in future seasons making a promotion this campaign even more important.
The pressure from Jackett’s point of view is also likely to increase the longer Paul Cook remains out of a job. The manager who guided Portsmouth to promotion from League Two is available following Wigan’s unusual relegation, and while he may prefer to wait for a Championship job, the job of guiding Portsmouth there may be tempting if he was offered it.
In one sense, Covid-19 may actually work in favour of managers (currently in jobs) this season. With clubs losing money every month, and many having to look at ways to cut costs, the cost of replacing a manager might be deemed too much to make the decision.
But if a club did make that decision it could also work in their favour when appointing a replacement. Managers currently out of work might not be able to be as fussy as they usually would be if there are less jobs becoming available, which might see managers willing to drop down further than they otherwise would have, and for less money.
Pompey’s next two league games see them come against Burton Albion and Milton Keynes, two sides who, like Portsmouth, have had a lot of the ball so far this season. Six points has to be the aim for Jackett, Burton have picked up just three points from their opening three games, and have conceded seven goals, while MK have just one point so far.
Anything less than six points from those games and Pompey are likely to still be hovering around the relegation zone, how long Kenny Jackett will get to turn their form around is unclear, but the pressure for results is rising week by week and if the tide does not turn soon it could be time up for Jackett at Fratton Park.