Match Overview

Saturday’s game, at an ever-lively Fratton Park, brings two sides together coming into the game with contrasting levels of confidence. 

Danny Cowley’s men haven’t lost in League One since a four-nil defeat back on October 19th – winning five and drawing two. Four wins and a draw has won Danny Cowley League One Manager of the Month for November. 

On the contrary, the Shrimps come into this game off the back of a 4-0 home defeat to MK Dons and 5-0 loss to Sunderland on Tuesday at the Stadium of Light. The nature of the latter was particularly upsetting due to the lack of performance. Robbo said he was ‘humiliated´ and embarrassed´ in his post-game interview. The incredible Morecambe faithful, travelling down to the South coast, will expect to see much more heart if they are to come away feeling satisfied. 

Sunderland’s Roker Report asked for my post match thoughts: 

The full article can be found here – https://rokerreport.sbnation.com/2021/12/9/22823083/fan-focus-morecambe-fan-gives-his-thoughts-on-sunderlands-5-0-mauling-of-the-shrimpers

Focusing back to this contest I’m delighted to have Sam Stone from  PO4cast – Pompey Podcast for PompeyNewsNow and Pompey Pedro for their expertise and insights on Pompey. 

So what are they expecting from the game? 

Sam,

¨After Pompey’s display against Sheffield Wednesday, I expect nothing but a Pompey win. The Blues’ played some of the best football we have seen from them this season, with a style of play that Danny Cowley has been trying to cement for a number of months.

Pompey outplayed a good Wednesday side for the majority of the game and if they can replicate the same performance on Saturday, they should come away with a positive result.

I don’t predict a classic, with Morecambe looking to frustrate and make life hard for Pompey. Pompey typically struggle in fixtures like this, however, if they can maintain their high levels of energy and find an early goal, then the game won’t diverge into a more scrappy affair that suits the visitors.¨

Pedro,

¨It’s taken a while but it looks like Danny Cowley is really starting to implement his style onto the side now. The team looks a lot more cohesive and confident. We try and play out from the back and our midfielder, particularly when Joe Morrell plays is starting to look really strong. We lack in the final third though. I’m expecting a good, open game with lots of chances but few goals.¨

As Sam mentioned, the performance was very dominant against a Wednesday side who have been coming into form. Despite the goalless draw they had four shots on target to one and according to Wyscout their expected goal was 2.02 to 1.09. They were just missing the crucial goal to reward the performance. ¨

Shrimps´ Selection 

Off the back of two league games in which we’ve conceded nine and scored none, no player can honestly say they’ve delivered enough to guarantee a starting eleven position. 

Shrimps captain Anthony O´Connor called out the performance at Sunderland immediately, 

¨It’s simply not good enough. We let ourselves down. As individuals, from 1-11, it’s absolutely embarrassing. There’s not one person who can come out there and say ¨I was out there and I did my job¨.

I’d expect Robbo to make changes for this game, but it’s extremely difficult to predict what those changes will be based on the level of the individual and team performances. 

We haven’t been good enough defensively and the goals were too easy on Tuesday night. 

If you look at the first goal as a prime example.

Cole Stockton laid the ball into the path of Jonah Ayunga who got outmuscled by Daniel Neil and Carl Winchester. 

Jonah then made a very lacklustre effort to track Lyndon Gooch. Gooch had more than 15 yards of space in which to drive unopposed at Ryan McLaughin. Our midfield didn’t press him and allowed him to advance. 

Gooch turned Ryan inside out and Lyndon was allowed to deliver the ball into the box.

Ross Stewart easily got ahead of Ryan Delaney in the box to stab home. 

A low shot at our goal and Kyle Letheren fumbled it into his net to make it 1-0 after just 13 minutes. 

I certainly don’t have the enthusiasm to break down all our five goals in that nature for this preview, but it typifies how, across the whole team, it simply wasn’t good enough. 

We need more desire, accountability and professionalism in order to start getting results against any side in League One, let alone MK Dons, Sunderland or Portsmouth. The travelling fans deserved better on Tuesday, so let’s hope for a vast improvement at Fratton Park. 

I’ll be glad to welcome back Shane McLaughlin who has been a consistent performer and brings energy to the side, which helps encourage our press. 

I also predict Ryan Cooney will be brought back into the side. He showed, at the start of the season, he relishes the big game performances at this level – including a brilliant display at Portman Road and we need to see more aggression in the side. According to Wyscout, Ryan has been involved in the second most defensive duels per 90 minutes with 10.3.

The other major change I’d make ,in terms of bringing in different players, is reintroducing Adam Phillips. His performances haven’t set the world alight lately, but he’s one of the only players we have who can deliver a defence splitting pass. This could prove a useful tactic in order to catch the Portsmouth defence out .

On Adam’s last visit to Fratton Park, in the last game of the season, his solitary goal – a close range thunderbolt –  denied Dan Cowley’s men a shot at the playoffs. 

In terms of defensive changes, we will likely have to wait until January to make any necessary switches to improve the side. 

I foresee the possibility of starting 4-3-3 with the wide players tracking back out of possession to make a 4-5-1. This requires the whole team to do their defensive duties! 

Morecambe XI: GK – Kyle Letheren, RB – Ryan Cooney, RCB – Anthony O´Connor, LCB – Ryan Delaney, LB – Greg Leigh, RCM – Adam Phillips, CM – Shane McLoughlin,  LCM – Alfie McCalmont, RF – Courtney Duffus, CF – Cole Stockton,  LF – Arthur Gnahoua, 

Pompey´s Selections

Sam,

¨At present Pompey are undergoing a severe injury/illness crisis, with another unknown player succumbing to illness in the last 24 hours.

Midfielder Joe Morrell is the main player that Danny Cowley has to make a decision over. Morrell missed the draw with Wednesday, having trained on Monday before the fixture. I don’t think I am alone in saying that if Morrell played on Tuesday, Pompey would’ve won the fixture. The Wales international has been one of the standout players this season, and if he’s fit Saturday he will make a huge difference.

It is up to Cowley to decide if he is fit enough to make an appearance, whether that be from the bench or from the outset.¨

Pedro,

¨What selection decisions does Danny Crowley have to make? None frankly. We’re in the midst of a horrible injury crisis so the team pretty much picks itself.

However even with a full strength side there aren’t many tricky selection choices. We have a clear standout player in nearly every position, our first XI is strong but beyond that we don’t have any real strength.¨

Pompey´s Strengths

Sam,

¨Pompey’s strengths lie in between both boxes. The formation, with the use of wingbacks (Romeo and Hackett) allows for the Blues to assert a control over the game, as they did against Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday night.

Pompey’s fully fit midfield is as good as you’ll find in the division – even with a makeshift midfield of Shaun Williams and Miguel Azeez, Pompey played through Wednesday with will and made inrodes into their backline with ease. It was clear from the outset that Cowley wanted to play attractive attacking football, however injuries have impacted that massively.

In Pompey’s recent run of good form, it is clear to see that the manager doesn’t want to diverge from playing out from the back and breaking lines with incisive but direct passing along the floor and it is starting to pay divedens. Pompey have also been solid for the majority of the season, holding one of the best clean sheet records in the division. This has been achieved without captain Clarke Robertson and a makeshift defence.¨

Pedro,

¨My favourite thing about Pompey at the moment is Danny Cowley. A modern, innovative manager who weathered a storm at the start of the season and has started to get his ideas across.

Defensively we’ve been solid, keeping clean sheets recently more often than not. That’s in part to the good form of Shaun Raggett at CB but mainly due to our best player…Gavin Bazunu in net. The Man City loanee is miles too good for this league. The Republic of Ireland number 1 proved his class when saving a penalty from CR7 in the recent round of qualifiers.¨

Having watched Portsmouth on a few occasions this season, the one thing that impresses me the most is their energy both on and off the ball. 

According to The Analyst, they have the lowest PPDA in League One with 8.9 which indicates intensity to win the ball back.

PPDA is the number of opposition passes allowed outside of the pressing team’s own defensive third, divided by the number of defensive actions by the pressing team outside of their own defensive third. A lower figure indicates a higher level of pressing, while a higher figure indicates a lower level of pressing.

In comparison, Morecambe have the second lowest PPDA with 17.5. From this, you could conclude Portmouth have a press significantly more intense than The Shrimps´.

In their game against Lincoln – which they won comfortably 3-0 – they denied Lincoln any space to play out from the back. 

In the clip below, Imps centre back TJ Eyoma receives the ball and is immediately pressed by centre forward pair Ronan Curtis and George Hirst. 

He decides to play safe and play it back to goalkeeper Josh Griffiths. George Hirst continues the press and he’s supported by attacking midfielder Marcus Harness (bottom right of the picture) to close off Griffiths´ short option. Josh is forced to go long. 

Below is another example of how Pompey’s high press caused Lincoln a headache when they played it out from the back. Josh Griffth plays a short goal kick to centre back Lewis Montsma across his six-yard box. George Hirst immediately charges to close him down. 

Montsma has very little space to operate as Hirst tries to cut any natural passing lanes for the right-footed Lewis’. 

Montsma manages to pick a pass to right back Regan Poole. However, Poole is immediately closed down by full back Reeco Hackett-Fairchild who’s in an advanced position.

Reeco manages to win the ball and delivers a cross into the box. 

The cross reaches the feet of Ronan Curtis inside the penalty area. His shot is saved by Griffth low-down to his right and put behind for a corner. 

This is a perfect example of how Cowley’s famous press can be so effective. This opportunity originated from a Lincoln goal kick which was played out from the back but was never in the control by an Imps player higher up than their own penalty area! 

This aggression is also shown in Wyscout´s challenge intensity stats in which Portsmouth have the fourth highest duels, tackles and interceptions per minute of opponent’s possession with 7.9. 

OK – so just go long against Pompey? 

The issue here is they are both scrappy and organised in equal measure at the back. Pedro mentioned Shaun Raggett´s form. Their central centre back is colossal in the air and leads by example at the back. The 6 foot 5 centre back is involved in a staggering 10.45 aerial duels per game and wins 71.2% of them. How The Shrimps could do with a centre back like that! 

Against AFC Wimbledon he won nine out of nine of his aerial duels and eight from nine against Lincoln. 

In midfield they have Shaun Williams who has the third highest recoveries per 1000 opposition touches with 12.64 according to Wyscout. 

A recovery is defined as ´when a player takes possession of a loose ball´ so he is able to latch onto misplaced clearances and recycle into Pompey possession. 

Pompey´s Weaknesses

Sam,

¨There are two main weaknesses that are interlinked this season. Firstly, the lack of depth in the squad. On Tuesday Pompey had a subs bench that was heavily made up of academy players. Ellis Harrison was the only sub that was made and he is likely on his way out come January.

Injuries and Illness have played a part but on the whole, Pompey’s squad lacks depth. Danny Cowley failed to shift the deadwood left from the Kenny Jackett era, with John Marquis, Ellis Harrison and Paul Downing all remaining (just to name a few). These players take up a significant portion of the wage bill and meant Cowley couldn’t add to his squad further. Pompey’s main weakness comes from the lack of cutting edge in the final third.

Pompey will work plenty of good opportunities, however a lackluster cross or an uncomposed finish result in lots of good play coming to nothing. If Pompey were able to clear some of the wages that still remain, then maybe they could’ve signed the quality in the final third that they desperately need.¨

Pedro,

¨The glaring weakness at the moment is our lack of quality up front. John Marquis’ was meant to be our main man but has fallen off a cliff formwise. George Hirst gets the nod at the moment and has actually looked pretty effective recently with ball at feet but again, isn’t clinical enough.

As with most teams in League 1 we struggle to get consistently good performances out of players but then again if they played to their maximum potential every game….they wouldn’t be league 1!¨

Both have mentioned their lack of cutting edge up front. This is reflected in Portsmouth’s overall goals. Despite being nineth in the table, they rank 18th in League One for goals scored with an average of just 1.14 per game. 

Without wishing to tempt fate and just laying out the facts – their two current forwards George Hirst and Ronan Curtis average just 0.16 and 0.14 goals per 90 mins respectively in League One.

They have a combined total of four goals (three for Curtis and one for Hirst) over a combined 2,257 minutes in League One in 21/22 (1,746 for Curtis and 511 minutes for Hirst) according to Transfermarkt. 

To put that in perspective, Cole Stockton has 13 goals in 1,710 League One minutes. 

According to Wyscout Curtis´expected goals in 6.4 for his 3 goals, whilst Hirst´s expected goal is 2.32 for his one goal scored. It shows that so far they are underperforming their scoring for the quality of chances presented to them. 

Their main goal threat comes from their attacking midfielder who has eight goals from 20 appearances.

Opportunites against Pompey

Sam,

¨On the whole, Pompey struggle when they fail to get an early goal against the lesser sides in the League (no disrespect to Morecambe – they’re having an excellent season). If Morecambe can frustrate and get the crowd turning on Pompey then they will certainly have a chance.

The longer it stays 0-0 the more likely an away win becomes. An individual matchup that will be crucial to the outcome is Sean Raggett up against Cole Stockton. Raggett has been in the form of his Pompey career and won’t be beaten in an aerial contest.

However, if the Morecambe front man can run directly with the ball at Raggett, then he may have some success. Raggett isn’t the most nimble on his feet and 1 v 1 defending is not his strong point. Considering the form Stockton is in, he should be trying to craft that situation as much as he can.¨

Pedro,

¨Our defence is solid as you like against aerial, direct football but any team with a fast, mobile striker/forwards will have no problem exposing our centre backs who struggle against that type of player. Our midfield has almost the opposite problem, being quite lightweight they can be bullied by agriculture old school opposition. ¨

Yet again, it’s encouraging to see two independent sources suggest a similar idea. 

Studying where Pompey concedes chances and consequently goals, it appears there is an opportunity to hit them in the wide defensive areas with direct balls. 

At Charlton and with Portsmouth leading 2-1  in the 86th minute, Addicks’ midfielder Ben Watson picks up the ball and plays a sweeping long high diagonal ball from centre to their left wing and Portsmouth’s right. 

Wide forward Corey Blackett-Taylor receives the ball in a wide position and is directly one-on- one with Pompey centre back Kieron Freeman. 

Corey beats him for pace and gets into the area. 

His low cross to the back post is slotted home by Josh Davison to earn the Addicks a point.

Against MK Dons, Spurs loanee Troy Parrott plays a diagonal ball forward from just within his own half.

This simple ball finds Scott Twine bursting ahead of his nearest Pompey player – midfielder Joe Morrell. 

Twine manages to advance into the area without getting a tackle against him and puts a low ball across the box.

Ethan Robson slots the ball home to win the game with the only goal of the match. 

The simplicity of these attacks is what stands out. A diagonal ball to the wide channels, pace to get into a suitable position and a low cross into the box. With Pompey´s high press, you can understand how they leave large spaces at the back.

Whilst Adam Phillips´ form hasn’t been fantastic lately, he’s our best option to play accurate sweeping balls. In his loan spell with us last season, he managed seven assists in 24 appearances albeit at League Two Level. 

In his penultimate game before ending his loan spell, Adam provided an assist for Cole. Exeter had lost the ball high up the pitch, but The Shrimps managed to find Adam just over the halfway line. 

He hit a diagonal ball beyond the Exeter defence. 

Cole managed to control the ball and went on to score to create a two goal advantage and kill the game off at the end. 

Ryan Delaney and Scott Wootton, two centre back options, are two players who also have the ability to play a sweeping long ball! 

We need to use our power and pace with whoever is selected to attack with purpose in order to capitolise. 

Pompey´s Threats

Sam,

¨Although the Blues’ have struggled for goals, the front three haven’t looked out of form. George Hirst has been a new player in recent weeks, with a goal and Match of the Match performance at Lincoln, you can see what a bit of confidence does for a player. He has a superb turn of pace, wins headers and has good movement. If he maintains his form, I would back him to score on Saturday.

Furthermore Marcus Harness has been in the form of his Pompey career and has been Pompey’s main source of goals recently. Since moving to the number 10 position, Harness has been rejuvenated. His technical ability and first touch mean that he could play a level above. If he can roam and pick up pockets of space then he will hurt the Morecambe defence.¨

According to Wyscout, Harness has the fourth highest number of smart passes in League One with 27. A smart pass is defined as ´a creative and penetrative pass that attempts to break the opposition’s defensive lines to gain a significant advantage in attack.

The three players ahead of him O´Riley (MK Dons), Bannon (Sheffield Wednesday) and Scott Twine (MK Dons) are all players who created worrying moments for our defence in our games against MK Dons and Wednesday.

In the example below against Wednesday, Pompey are breaking up the field and Harness gets on the ball. He is surrounded by Owls players.

Despite the overload, Harness is able to play a defence splitting pass to George Hirst who is through on goal. 

In another moment in the same game, Harness receives the ball in the centre of the field deep in the Wednesday half. 

By the time he’s closed down, he plays a low ball behind the Wednesday defence. 

Ronan Curtis has now been played in through on goal side of his markers. 

Harness has an expected assists of 2.75 in League One, yet only has one assist to his name. His teammates haven’t exploited the chances he’s created. 

Incidentally, Portsmouth have the highest number of offsides in League One according to Wyscout. 

This could suggest the Pompey forwards are playing off the shoulder of the last defender often, waiting for a through ball. 

On the other hand,Harness has eight goals from just 4.73 expected goals. Resourceful it’s fair to say!! According to his shot map, his goals have come centrally from a variety of distances so either Kyle or Jökull, depending on who is selected, will need to be on their toes. 


Although Hirst has just one League One goal to his name, he has bags of pace and power at 6 ft 3. 

Below is an example in which the 22 year old picks up the ball in his own half.  

He then drives at the Lincoln defence and advances into half. 

He manages to use his strength and speed to avoid challenges. Somehow he gets into the Lincoln half and his shot is blocked by Imps keeper Griffith to prevent one of the goals of the season! 

I believe Robbo will demand that his players close down the passing lanes significantly better than we did against Sunderland, to prevent the smart passes through our lines, whilst also putting in challenges to prevent players dribbling freely. 

All of our players need to be on their toes, press and get tackles in. If we sit off and allow them to play too much, they have players who can hurt us. 

In terms of countering the threat Pompey offer with their iconic high press, I foresee us being somewhat more ´pragmatic´ – which he hinted at in his pre-game interview – and we’ll go more direct than usual. 

LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!

Pompey has never been a place to give the away team an easy ride; whichever division and whatever time you meet them. You know what you get with at Fratton Park. I think this is just the kind of game The Shrimps need right now, a chance for players to get stuck in and show they deserve a place in the starting XI. 

Whatever the result, it may well be one of those days when what you put in is more important than what you actually get out.

Whilst in an ideal world we need to try and get points in all our fixtures, we have three more winnable fixtures (in theory) coming up against relegation rivals – Fleetwood, Crewe and Doncaster – in our next three games at The Mazuma stadium. 

Given the lowered expectations, due to recent poor results, perhaps this is a bit of a free hit in preparation for those scraps back in Lancashire? If so, hopefully the players play more to the level they can do and prove themselves to be capable of League One with less pressure for a result. I´m sure as always it´ll be a great atmosphere down at Fratton Park!

Portsmouth fan dies after falling ill during Cherries friendly |  Bournemouth Echo

I´d like to say a huge thanks to Sam from PO4cast – Pompey Podcast for PompeyNewsNow and Pompey Pedro for their brilliant insights. It it is reasuring to see their viewpoints align, despite not collaborating!

I hope you enjoyed the preview and analysis. If you did, please follow ShrimpsOnline for more news & updates. FEEL FREE TO LEAVE COMMENTS BELOW.


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2 Comments

  1. john stretton on 11 de December, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    I wish to congratulate you on this insight into our match today. It was a pleasure to have a balanced view, and would like to thank you for this interesting read.

    From a Portsmouth FC supporter…



  2. john stretton on 11 de December, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    I wish to congratulate you on this insight into our match today. It was a pleasure to have a balanced view, and would like to thank you for this interesting read.

    From a Portsmouth FC supporter…



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