Portsmouth v Southend: Pompey’s dependence on Pitman

Can Oxley be Southend’s hero? – southendunited.co.uk

Southend United’s Jason Demetriou admitted that the team didn’t do the gritty side of the game in the first half of their FA Cup tie two weeks ago at Yeovil, losing 1-0 to crash out at the first hurdle.

Demetriou was one of a few players who squandered second half chances at Huish Park but the right-back has a key role to play in their next encounter.
The Cypriot impressed both at Roots Hall and his previous club Walsall for his tenacity and lung-busting runs down the right, which could make him at key weapon at Fratton Park.

Demetriou will hope to get forward and expose Portsmouth’s problems at left-back, which we saw last week, even though they deservedly won 3-2 at Blackpool.

An opposing right-winger came off the bench to tear apart Matt Clarke, who is more comfortable at centre-back but filled in on the left. Their alternative options are less than ideal: Dion Donohue is unconvincing defensively, Brandon Haunstrup is untested and Damien McCrory is unavailable.

Portsmouth though will feel they get threaten on the opposite side. We saw signs against Bradford that they can create openings when Kyle Bennett and Jamal Lowe link-up down the right channel. They will hope to get two-on-one situations against Michael Timlin, who started the Shrimpers’ last nine league games at left-back due to the absence of others, but is not the quickest.

Even if the Solent outfit can get past the visiting defence, they will find it hard to get the better of Mark Oxley. The goalkeeper has been key to successive 1-0 league wins and he also had a good game prior to that against Peterborough. It took him a little time to fill the boots of Daniel Bentley, who left for Brentford in 2016, but the Essex club now has a stopper that can save them points when they are perhaps not at their best going forward.

Oxley’s performances has been one major factor behind their impressive recent defensive record – another is the professionalism of Ryan Leonard. The holding midfielder was denied his preferred move to Sheffield United in the summer, but his performances have not suffered and manager Phil Brown has praised his attitude.

Leonard does a lot of covering work to ensure that the defence, which might struggle if exposed to quick attacks, has sufficient protection. Portsmouth could do with a similar type of player, yet to find a suitable replacement for Michael Doyle, who left for Coventry in the summer.

The hosts do have a goalscorer in Brett Pitman, who is the second top scorer in the division. The experienced striker, who has won promotion from the Championship with Bournemouth, can score different types of goals and is consistently clinical, even in games when his all-round play is not the best.

Pitman, alone, has scored 11 league goals for Portsmouth, the same number as 24 other outfield squad members and opposition own goal scorers have managed between them. Whilst that is a credit to the ex-Ipswich man, the fact he has scored 50% of their goals looks concerning when we consider that last season’s top scorer, Kal Naismith, bagged just 17% of the team’s league goals.

Although they were in a lower division back then, Paul Cook’s possession-based tactics were conducive to giving non-strikers freedom to get into goalscoring positions.

Kenny Jackett favours a more direct approach, so while Pitman has benefited from so much of the attacking play going through him, other players are not seeing quite as many openings.

A tight game looks in the offing.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 0-1