Pompey v Barnet: bullish Bees

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Martin Allen – alchetron.com

Martin Allen is known for enforcing long ball football but during Barnet’s 1-1 draw with Colchester last week, he was often heard shouting: “pass it!”, encouraging his players to be cuter in possession. His side may revert to type on Saturday however, as they travel to promotion favourites Portsmouth.

Their game plan at Fratton Park will almost certainly be to play early balls to striker John Akinde. As we can see from his goals against Accrington, Crawley and Mansfield, Akinde thrives when he gets the ball in the gap between defence and midfield and is able to drive at the centre-backs. If Michael Doyle and Daniel Rose make up Pompey’s double pivot, one of them will need to block off the passing lanes to Akinde, protecting Tom Davies and Christian Burgess.

Those two centre-backs cannot always rely on help from the full-backs. Right-back Gareth Evans is a winger by trade while left-back Enda Stevens has won praise largely for his attacking play. He likes to get forward and hug the touchline, creating space for attacking players such as Gary Roberts and Milan Lalkovic to pull strings. The in-form Lalkovic though was controversially dropped to the bench at Accrington in favour of an inconsistent Kyle Bennett, who offered little in a 1-0 defeat.

Paul Cook seems reluctant to offer a first start of the season to Conor Chaplin. The team has scored seven goals in 191 league minutes of him being on the pitch but just 11 in 720 minutes overall – the goal output increases by 140% with Chaplin on the field. This may be partly a by-product of more goals naturally being scored later in games, yet Chaplin played from the 25th minute against Wycombe and helped Pompey to four goals. He is a clinical finisher, he offers pace and skill to the attack and is quite unlucky not to have been given a more prominent role.

Another impactful substitute is Barnet’s Jamal Campbell-Ryce, who also is yet to start this term. He tormented Colchester’s left-back in his 60 minute display last week and created chances for other players. Campbell-Ryce looks surprisingly quick at 33 and counter-attacking pace is a quality the Bees will require at Fratton Park.

They will be locked in their own half for much of the game but are more than competent defensively. Of the 31 shots they have faced this term, they have conceded just five goals, according to Experimental 361 (21-4 pre-Colchester). Having played one fewer game than their competitors, Barnet have conceded League Two’s fewest goals (five), Michael Nelson a cool head at centre-back.

In the last meeting, at the Hive back in February, the Bees physically dominated Portsmouth and won through an Akinde goal. Despite the budgetary gulf, you wouldn’t bet against bullish Barnet blocking out their more glamorous hosts.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 0-0

Other League Two Predictions
Mansfield v Grimsby Stags to edge out inconsistent Mariners. 2-1
Carlisle v Wycombe Chairboys poor away, home win to nil. 1-0
Colchester v Accrington Stanley may be fatigued after Wednesday’s big trip. 3-1
Crewe v Blackpool Alex in-form but Pool performances promising. 1-1
Luton v Doncaster Successive defeats puts pressure on Hatters. 1-1
Morecambe v Crawley High-scoring win for the Shrimps. 3-2
Newport v Cambridge 1 win/15 combined – neither side to be fancied. 0-0
Notts Co v Leyton Orient Magpies unreliable at the back – O’s thrive away. 1-3
Plymouth v Hartlepool Pilgrims on a roll – Pools woeful defensively. 3-0
Stevenage v Exeter Solid Boro to deepen Grecian woes. 2-0
Yeovil v Cheltenham A happy return to Huish Park for Johnson. 1-2
Last time: 4/12 correct results