Is it too early in the season for squeaky bum time? How important will this week’s results be in eight month’s time? How important is a consistent system when so much can change from one game to the next? Am I asking too many questions? Do bums even squeak?
I’ll try and answer at least one of these questions. (Spoiler: I don’t).
Coventry City vs. Portsmouth – 02/10/18
Another day, another home tie against a team with a healthy travelling support. Portsmouth fans have every right to sing in the manner they did on Tuesday night: Unbeaten, top of the league, and showing signs that they are on their way back up after all the trouble that they have gone through in recent times. An example set for us to follow, perhaps?
With Conor Chaplin ineligible for this game, as part of the terms set by Pompey of his initial loan spell, most of the discussion going into the game was based around how we would line up without him. Since his arrival, we seem to have fared slightly better using a 4-4-2, yet Mark Robins decided that the next best course of action was to reintroduce Tony Andreu to the XI, and revert to the 4-2-3-1 that we had started the season with.
It’s fair to say that Andreu didn’t have any the best of opening halves on the night. Nothing he tried really came off for him, and it didn’t seem as though he really had any sort of understanding with Jonson Clarke-Harris in front of him. To his credit, he did do a lot of running, but it tended to be after a ball that he had lost.
Clarke-Harris did his best to impose himself on the game as well as he had done in the previous match, against Sunderland, but was finding it more difficult to have as much of an influence, due in part to the diligent Portsmouth defenders. One gilt-edged opportunity fell his way later in the half. A miscommunication at the back left Clarke-Harris free to run onto a loose ball. However, he could only find himself able to shoot straight into the arms of the goalkeeper. A disappointing end to a great chance.
In a similar fashion to the Sunderland game, we had edged the first half, and were probably more deserving of a goal, despite Portsmouth going closest with one effort. As such, we went behind right on the stroke of half-time. Michael Doyle lost out to a robust challenge in midfield, before the ball was played forward to Brett Pitman. Pitman knocked the ball back down to Ronan Curtis, who dribbled in from the left flank, avoided a Tom Davies challenge with minimal effort, and then curled the ball home from 20 yards. 0-1. Of bloody course it was.
And so, we found ourselves behind at half-time. Unlike the Sunderland game, we now had a full 45 minutes, plus a potential rocket from Robins at half-time, to give us a chance to at least equalise. So, we didn’t.
It’s easy to say that we were poor in the second half. We weren’t exactly great, true, but Portsmouth managed the game perfectly for 45 minutes. Pressing us in midfield, forcing us to have the ball out wide, and being tighter than a Scottish accountant in defence. The truth is, it was just plain hard for us, and that’s where the difference lies, in being a team who should go up, to being a team who wants to go up.
Jodi Jones was brought on for Jordan Shipley, and looked lively; trying in vain to make something happen, but for a lack of defensive errors or a teammate in a good position. Robins eventually relented and brought on Jordy Hiwula, prompting a shift to 4-4-2. However, this bore no fruit. Hiwula found it difficult to get on the ball, and only managed to do so in the middle of the pitch, where it is very difficult for any striker to be truly effective.
It became clear quite some way before full-time, that this was going to remain the same for the rest of the match. Honestly, the referee could have blown the whistle 20 minutes earlier and nothing would have been lost. It was at this point that the Sky Blue Army decided to just sing Twist and Shout for a bit. Such entertainment was almost a novelty.
Full time: Coventry 0-1 Portsmouth
I think that it says a lot, that when faced with the absence of Conor Chaplin, Mark Robins would prefer to bring in Tony Andreu and force a change in shape and play style, than to give one of his other summer strike force signings a rare start. It might suggest even more that Robins was also vocal in his disdain for Hiwula’s cameo performance, despite having very little to go off of. Hiwula can’t exactly do a lot to change a game when the game isn’t coming to him. I don’t think anyone else would have expected him to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and turn it around. If anything, he would have been brought on to add a bit of pace through the middle, stretch the defenders, and lighten the load on Clarke-Harris up front, but he simply wasn’t given any opportunity within the game to do so.
Tom Bayliss being given Man of the Match was a bit odd. We all love Bayliss, but in no way did he stand out above the rest of our squad. In fact, if we wanted to be more critical, I’d argue that there were a couple of occasions during the match where he could have played a simple ball forwards or sideways, but instead did his usual merry dance with the ball. The problem is, a lot of midfielders are wising up to Bayliss, and for him to get past some of the opponents he’s faced in recent games has been nowhere near as effortless as he made things look a division lower. He was very, very quiet for long periods of the game on Tuesday night, albeit mostly for reasons akin to those applying to Hiwula, so I won’t say it’s entirely his fault. I just feel as though giving him Man of the Match was a bit, well, dumb.
So, who should take the accolade for us? Honestly? It wasn’t a good game to pick a standout, but I will argue a case for Dujon Sterling. He had a busy game again, and played very well. Although not allowed to venture forward as often this time around, he found himself involved in play more and more often as the game progressed, and did very little fundamentally wrong. If he can transfer this kind of performance back over to the other flank once Brandon Mason and/or Junior Brown are fully fit again, then we will start to see him bloom some more.
All we have left to do, is see how we pick ourselves up against Charlton; a club we’ve developed a burgeoning affinity with through recent difficulties. Of course, it closes out our challenging week of fixtures. With the 5-point target I had hoped for by the end of the week now out of reach, we go back to the start of the cycle of building up some momentum. We need to get another win or two under our belts. We all know we can do it, but it’s now time to prove ourselves.
Onwards and upwards.