Here we go then, one last game against Portsmouth.
The Lads are taking a lead to Fratton Park after a strong second half showing against Kenny Jackett’s men, and the red and white army making the long journey down will be in good spirits.
How are the opposition feeling, though? We spoke to Freddie Webb of PompeyNewsNow before the first leg and he was in a confident mood, but has Chris Maguire’s strike changed that? Will Jackett be ringing the changes or will he stick to what he knows? We ask Freddie about this and more in what is hopefully the penultimate opposition interview this season.
RR: What did you make of your performance in the first leg? I thought you approached it similarly to how you did in the second half of the league game, in that you were overly cautious. Do you agree?
FW: I thought Portsmouth played well for the first 20 minutes but ultimately ran out of steam. At times, the forwards seemed bereft of ideas and created little chances.
Despite Lee Brown being injured and Anton Walkes having to play at left-back, the team were defensively solid, but had problems going forward and making the most of their possession.
Pompey were unable to create clear-cut chances due to their forward play being one-dimensional. So many times, Ronan Curtis and Jamal Lowe dribbled the ball out-wide but were left isolated due to a lack of overlapping runs from the full-backs. Pompey create most of their chances from overlapping runs, so the team were not effective going forward without them.
Ronan Curtis and Anton Walkes were particularly poor going forward on the left-hand side. Kenny Jackett mentioned that they struggled and created minimal chances due to a lack of a left-footed player on the left-side, but all of Pompey’s attacking players under performed.
Aside from Gareth Evans, Oli Hawkins, Ben Close and both wingers all had quiet games.
Kenny Jackett’s substitutions changed the game slightly when Sunderland were down to 10-men. The front four were more mobile with Solomon-Otabor and Bogle coming on, but again, they created very little.
I was very disappointed in the performance, but the result is not the end of the world. A one goal deficit with the second leg being at Fratton Park is salvageable.
RR: Just how much of a blow to the squad confidence do you think that result will have? Especially given the fact that we had to play 25 minutes with 10 men!
FW: I’m sure the players will be upset about the performance, but they’ll be able to put the first leg behind them. The squad are a resilient group of players, winning games from losing positions multiple times this season.
Gareth Evans revealed this fiery determination from the squad in a pre-match interview, saying how it is a similar situation to when Portsmouth were 1-0 down at half-time in the Chackatrade Trophy final.
The players know the performance in the first leg was not good enough, but that will not hinder them in the second leg at home.
RR: We touched on Alim Ozturk’s red card there, which has since been rescinded. Do you agree that the referee made a mistake as it looked like Ozturk got the ball, or do you think a red was correct?
FW: I thought the straight red-card for Ozturk was harsh. Gareth Evans was running out-wide, away from goal and it might not even have been a clear goal scoring opportunity if Evans dribbled around Ozturk.
The tackle was a foul, but not malicious enough to deserve a straight red-card.
RR: Do you think Kenny Jackett will make many changes, if any at all, for the second leg? Both in terms of approach and team selection?
FW: Team selection for the second leg will entirely depend on who is available.
Lee Brown and Brett Pitman are having fitness tests the day before the second leg. I expect Brown to play at left-back if he’s fit but Pitman will more than likely start on the bench if he passes the fitness test.
Considering their poor performances in the first leg, Hawkins and Curtis might make way for Bogle and Solomon-Otabor, but I do not expect wholesale changes for this game.
Kenny Jackett trusts his starting XI and a direct, versatile style of football. I knew Jackett’s substitutions in the first leg before he made them, and this lack of creativity can be frustrating at times. Nonetheless, as a squad, Pompey do have limited options, so I’m not surprised about the predictable team selection.
In terms of approach, Jackett will set up an attacking style of play from kick-off. Pompey will look to overload the wide areas to try and create chances through crosses into the box or direct through balls to the wingers. Jackett will look to Ben Close and Gareth Evans to make direct passes from midfield, spread the play out wide, and create gaps which players such as Lowe can exploit.
Additionally, Christian Burgess and Matt Clarke will be relied upon to recycle possession and keep Portsmouth in control of possession, in a similar fashion to the 2nd half of the Checkatrade Trophy final.
If Pompey do all of these things well, I fully expect them to overcome the one goal deficit and reach the playoff final.
RR: And finally, how confident do you feel going into the second leg? Do you think you’ll turn it around or are you worried about your home form and the fact that we only need a draw?
FW: I’m still confident that Pompey can win the tie. The performance in the first leg was poor, but Sunderland were not that much better. It took a moment of quality from Chris Maguire to win the game.
Even if Sunderland take a defensive approach, all it takes is one moment of magic to level the tie on aggregate. Although Pompey are better at defending than going forward, Sunderland’s shaky defence gives me optimism that Pompey can overcome a one goal deficit.
At a potentially sold out Fratton Park, the atmosphere will galvanise the Pompey players and push them towards the playoff final.