Neither of us wanted to be playing each other again so soon - we both hoped that we would be going up automatically without having to deal with the nonsense of the play-offs. Since our 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light just a few weeks ago, the form of the opposition has been similar to ours - so here we are.
Pompey lost to Peterborough on the same night we blew it against Fleetwood and then drew at home to Accrington Stanley on the final day. So, if nothing else, take some solace in the fact that we’re facing a side who are feeling just as flat as we are.
RR: What’s the mood like in the Portsmouth support right now? I only ask because you’ve had a similar plunge in form to us and it’s left us feeling pretty flat. Is it the same for you?
FW: Currently, the mood in Portsmouth is that of disappointment. Most fans are still hurting from the home loss against Peterborough; they appreciate the players for giving it everything to achieve automatic promotion but are frustrated that they faltered and finished in the playoffs.
I traveled down from Newcastle to watch the last game of the season at Fratton Park. You could tell the energy was sucked out of the ground and the result showed that. It was a drab game in a drab atmosphere.
Many fans hearkening back to the memories of the playoff losses against Leicester in 1993 and Plymouth three years ago. Although, bearing all this in mind, this Pompey team are resilient to set backs and the majority of fans are still confident in playoff success despite the rough memories.
RR: To go back a few weeks - we played out a 1-1 draw not long ago and Pompey seemed to really sit back in the second half. How did you feel about that at the time given you showed you can cause us problems in the Checkatrade Trophy final and in hindsight, should Kenny Jackett have approached that half in a more positive manner?
FW: Kenny Jackett loves to rely on his back four and goalkeeper to keep Portsmouth alive in games and even bail them out on occasion.
Dropping deeper can be Pompey’s strength at times. Matt Clarke and Christian Burgess are really comfortable ball-playing centre backs, so can make transitions in play from defence to the midfield easily. That and having fast wingers such as Jamal Lowe, Pompey can hurt teams on the counter-attack.
Although, with about 20 minutes to go in the game, it was obvious that most of the Pompey players were exhausted and because of that, the team lost the battle in midfield. Losing the battle midfield left Oli Hawkins isolated and Jamal Lowe picking off scraps.
Kenny Jackett is often conservative with his substitutions. I would have liked to have seen Bryn Morris or Viv Solomon-Otabor subbed on in midfield to re-energise the team going forward, but I don’t blame Jackett for relying on tactics that have contributed to Pompey’s excellent away-record this season. A draw was a fair result.
RR: Getting back to the play offs, how do you feeling about facing us in the semis? Do you share the same feeling as me in that you’re glad you’re playing a team who’ve also stumbled recently?
FW: Personally, I think Sunderland is the best opponent for Portsmouth. So many times, in-form teams have beaten the better sides on paper in the playoffs.
The way Charlton play counteracts Pompey and Doncaster have had to battle right to the last minute to finish 6th.
Considering that Pompey are unbeaten against Sunderland this season and the Black Cats patchy form, I’m glad that’s the side that Pompey are facing over two legs.
RR: Looking at your home record, I’ve started to think that us being away in the second leg might not be the disaster I thought it was. What’s your feelings on this, especially given that Portsmouth ended the season with the best away record in the division?
FW: There always will be an extra pressure on Pompey’s players at home games, with the higher attendance and a more vibrant atmosphere.
Personally, I would be worried about Sunderland playing away from home in the second leg. The atmosphere at a sell-out Fratton Park will only galvanise the Pompey players further to win the game and end the history of playoff misery.
If Pompey kick into the home end in the second half of that game, I’d expect a similar performance to the second half of the Checkatrade Trophy final. Lee Brown hailed the atmosphere at Wembley and said it the atmosphere pulled the team through in the second half.
RR: How do you see Kenny Jackett approaching the first leg? Will he look to keep it tight to make sure he’s taking a decent result back to Fratton Park or will he go for it from the off?
FW: Pompey have a really settled and proven starting XI which Jackett rarely deviates from. Without any injuries, I’d expect Portsmouth to start with the same XI which played in the Checkatrade Trophy final.
Jackett will look at the midfield initially to see how his team will play. If Ben Close, Tom Naylor and Brett Pitman are retaining a lot of possession in midfield, then Pompey will play more positively. This will lead to the wide areas being exploiting with overlapping full-backs and wingers who can do out-swinging crosses or cut inside to disrupt the opponents defensive shape.
If Pompey struggle in midfield, they will drop deeper and revert to the counter-attacking approach seen at the Stadium of Light in April, using Oli Hawkins or Omar Bogle as an outlet for direct passes.
Overall, Jackett changes the way Pompey play depending on possession and the effectiveness of Pompey’s wide players. Jackett might have his eye on holding out for a draw in the first leg but he won’t restrict his players going forward.
RR: And how do you see Saturday night going? Do you think either side will be taking a positive result into the second leg or will it be a cagey one?
FW: I see the first-leg as a complete coin flip. I expect both teams to play with a bit of caution initially but the game will definitely open up after the first ten minutes.
My score prediction is a 1-1 draw, leaving everything up for grabs in the second leg but anything can happen.
Although, I am confident we can beat Sunderland over two legs. Pompey’s reliable defence, excellent goalkeeper and 100% hardworking approach will give them the edge over Sunderland.