Pompey v Cambridge: Derry’s shrewd loan signings

derryCambridge are on a good run. Only Northampton, Barnet and Carlisle have conceded fewer goals in their last six games and we can see that the defence is shaping up. One of the first things Shaun Derry did at Notts County was re-organize the back-line and clearly that has been his main objective at the Abbey.

The loan signing of right-back Darnell Furlong is a superb piece of business. Furlong looked half-decent in the handful of Premier League games he played for QPR last season, so it seems surprising that he was prepared to drop down to League Two. It may be that Derry built up a relationship with Furlong at QPR, and perhaps the club see Derry as a good developer of young talent, who can nurture the 20-year-old. In any case, Furlong is quick and has a dependable work rate whilst also looking comfortable on the ball, making him arguably the best right-back in the division.

Cambridge brought in a lot of strong, experienced, ‘been there and done it’  type players in the summer but Shaun Derry’s recent additions suggest a deviation from that policy. The loan signings of Furlong, Ryan Ledson and Lewis Page – though the latter has missed the last couple of games – have all re-vitalized the team and injected energy. Ryan Haynes joined from Coventry, providing an assist in his home debut against York last week, and he fits into the same category. The only danger is that, it is harder to sustain a consistent first eleven on a squad with a lot of loan signings, a problem Derry found at Notts County. He has brought in the right types of players so far, but now he needs to stabilize the squad.

With an inconsistent team comes inconsistent results, something Portsmouth have found to their cost this season. Paul Cook’s side recently beat Bristol Rovers 3-0 but the next week, they only managed a 1-1 draw at struggling Yeovil. The south coast side have only won five games since mid-October, picking up 23 points from their last 18 games. Had the season started 18 games ago, they would currently be 15th. What was once a brief blip has now become a major slide and a 1-0 loss at Barnet means the team’s faint automatic promotion have evaporated.

Portsmouth, by contrast, try to play pretty, possession football in every game they play. That shows real naivety and an ignorance towards the demands of League Two, and particularly a team like Barnet, who often bully teams at the Hive.

Portsmouth only had two players in their starting eleven in North London who were at least six feet tall – centre-backs Adam Webster and Matt Clarke – neither of whom are quite as good as the suspended Christian Burgess. Kal Naismith came on for the injured Gary Roberts early on and while the former Accrington man is over six feet tall, he too is not the strongest.

On that basis, one must question whether Portsmouth have the right balance in their side. In the summer, Paul Cook was obsessed with bringing in technical players who fit into his possession football philosophy, yet neglected the vital components of any successful team. It is one thing having talent but you have to show some strength, aggression and aerial dominance at times and Pompey do not appear to have those type of qualities.

The shortage of tall, strong players in their side has made it harder to defend set pieces. They have recently conceded vital goals at Yeovil, Morecambe and Leyton Orient, simply due to not having enough height in their box when defending set plays. Cambridge are enjoying life under Shaun Derry and this blog backs them to win.