It feels like I’ve said this every game for the past few weeks but, YET AGAIN, Wigan Athletic could secure their promotion back to the Championship at Fratton Park against Portsmouth.
Latics need a point to confirm promotion but also know that if they better Rotherham’s result away at Sunderland they will win the League 1 title for the 3rd time in 6 years.
We’ll face a stern test from Pompey, who haven’t lost at their home ground since January, and with it being their last game in front of their own fans you’d imagine they’ll be keen to give them a good send off.
Around 1,000 Latics fans will be making the mammoth journey to the South Coast hoping to be there to see their side achieve the promotion they deserve.
Latics Team News
Leam Richardson made the surprising decision to not make a substitute till the 92nd minute on Saturday despite some tired legs on the pitch. The recovery of our players has been first class throughout the season but as an outsider it looked like some fresh legs would’ve been very useful in the latter stages of the Plymouth match.
Alas we know that Leam doesn’t tend to make substitutes for the sake of it and the same goes for changes to the starting 11. Saturday’s game saw the return of Jordan Cousins into the midfield as well as the introduction of Tom Pearce in place of Kell Watts.
Ben Amos made a crucial error to gift Plymouth their goal on Saturday so he’ll be desperate to put that right tonight. When the pressure is on the team needs a calm head between the sticks and hopefully Amos returns to his best tonight after a below par few games.
Jason Kerr and Jack Watmough welcomed Joe Bennett into the back 3 on Saturday with the LB replacing Kell Watts on the left of the back 3. For this game I’d like to see Watts return to the side as the aerial ability he offers in both boxes could be key. Pompey are a big threat from set pieces and have a much more physical front 2 than Plymouth so I think bringing him back makes sense.
Tom Pearce returned to the side on Saturday but unfortunately didn’t put in the kind of performance we’re used to seeing from the young wing back. His crossing left a lot to be desired and if he keeps his spot tonight he’ll be wanting to improve that part of his game especially. Joe Bennett has played 2 consecutive 90 minutes so don’t be surprised if he’s rested. Captain Tendayi Darikwa put in another solid performance at the weekend and would love nothing more than to push his side over the line at last.
The midfield is where the tactical battle could play a big part. In recent weeks Pompey have played a 4-4-2 system which when lined up against the 3-5-2 Latics played at the weekend could struggle in my opinion. However, if we decide to be aggressive and play 3 forwards that also offers them a different kind of threat to worry about, it really depends on whether we want to risk being slightly more open.
My preference would be to go for it and pick a front 3 and a midfield double pivot who will go man to man with Pompey’s middle 2. Jordan Cousins’ performance at the weekend makes it harsh to drop him but the Power/Naylor partnership has been excellent all season and assuming they’re both fit enough to start I think they should.
If played as a 10 in a front 3 Will Keane will look to pick the ball up in the space between Pompey’s defence and midfield and look to cause damage from this area, similarly to how he did against Lincoln. Callum Lang will lead the line alongside one of Stephen Humphrys or Josh Magennis, my choice being the latter.
Although there have been murmurings of an injury for Magennis I’d like to see him start the match if he’s able to. Having a dominant centre forward to occupy one of Pompey’s 2 centre halves will leave space for Keane and Lang to exploit. Also like I mentioned previously they are a dominant side at set piece situations so having someone like Magennis in the side will help out massively in both boxes.
Danny Cowley’s Portsmouth have fallen just short in their bid for the play offs this season as they sit 9th, 10 points off 6th place Wycombe. A run of 1 win in 10 early on in the season has come back to bite Pompey and they’ll now be looking ahead to the next campaign. With 3 wins from 4 they look to be finishing the season in style and with the chance to delay Latics’ promotion party they’ll be well up for tonight.
5 games ago they changed to a 4-4-2 system and it seems to have brought them success, particularly going forward. After a 1-0 defeat in the 4-4-2’s debut match at Cheltenham, Pompey have scored 10 goals in 4 games and look much more of a threat at the top end of the pitch. Their 3-0 win over Rotherham highlighted their ability from set pieces as well against statistically the divisions strongest side in that area, but it also showed how quickly they are able to transition from back to front.
Goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu is on loan from Manchester City and as you’d imagine has excellent distribution which Portsmouth use to their advantage. When Bazunu has the ball in his hands they vacate central areas and position most players out wide, allowing one of the front 2 to drop into the space in the midfield and collect the ball from a pass or throw. Here’s an example of them doing this against Rotherham.
Their 4-4-2 can be narrow in possession with most of their width coming from overlapping full backs. One of their strikers will also drift wide on occasions too which requires high levels of defensive communication to ensure they aren’t left unmarked. When the ball is wide the opposite winger will tuck in to add another body in the box whilst allowing the supporting full back to occupy the wide areas outside him to collect any overhit crosses or loose balls.
Danny Cowley’s preferred midfield pairing is Joe Morell and Louis Thompson, two players that are hard working with a focus on ball recovery and rotation rather than creation. They will provide a tough test for Power and Naylor but will also need to be wary of Will Keane picking up the ball in and around them should he play as a 10 tonight. Morell and Thompson lead Pompey’s tackling stats with them both averaging over 1 per 90 but neither sit in the top 5 for key passes or assists.
Pompey defend narrowly as well which could leave space for our wing backs to be aggressive if they spot an opportunity to do so. They have powerful defenders who have good records in the air, particularly Sean Raggett who’s 5.1 clearances per 90 is the 8th highest in the league. I can’t see crosses into the box being too fruitful for Latics, but using direct balls into Magennis to create openings around him could be a useful plan for Leam Richardson’s side.
They are a side capable of pressing high up the pitch which could make a direct style of play more suitable. Ronan Curtis has won the ball back in the final 3rd more than any other player in the league apart from Rotherham’s Michael Smith so he will keep our defenders honest on the ball.
Portsmouth are a solid side that have changed a lot from the last time we played them, a 1-0 win back in August at the DW. They are in a rich vein of goal scoring form, have been brilliant at home as of late and will be playing with a freedom that Latics won’t have for obvious reasons. It will be a stern test at both ends of the pitch but they can leave themselves open at times and I believe some of the things I’ve mentioned are weaknesses we have the ability to exploit.
Player to Watch
Sean Raggett recently won Portsmouth’s player of the season award, and deservedly so after a fantastic season for the 29 year old Centre Back. His consistency alongside several different CB partners is commendable and he’s a big reason why Portsmouth were still in with a play off chance until recently.
Defensively he is excellent, particularly in the air where he wins the majority of his duels and makes an impressive 5.1 clearances per 90. His tackle completion percentage of 76% is also very impressive and his reading of the game allows him to make almost 1 interception per 90. For much of the season he played in aback 3 where these jobs were spread around more, but he’s continued to impress in the back 4 Danny Cowley has turned to recently.
He is also a threat going forward with 6 goals to his name this season. It’s vital we mark him and CB partner Clark Robertson closely at set pieces as the pair of them can reek havoc if not dealt with correctly.
Will we finally get it done and dusted? I certainly hope so! Portsmouth will offer us a proper test tonight and with it being their final home game they’ll definitely be up for the match, but with what’s at stake so should we be.
The team selection will be key and I hope Leam does turn to his subs bench if needs be which he’s perhaps been guilty of not doing in recent games. We’re almost there and hopefully tonight is the night.