Matthew Crichton: Danny Cowley was interviewed for the Sunderland job before Lee Johnson was hired, how was he performed so far as manager of Portsmouth?
Freddie Webb: The fans are 100% behind him and his brother Nicky. The press conferences, the accountability, the emotion on the touchline, it’s all a breath of fresh air. He gets Pompey. Last season was a free hit for Danny Cowley.
So far, I and most of the fans think he’s doing the best he can with the resources he has. The player turnover in the summer has been huge and he’s implementing a new style of play. It’s going to take time and the results haven’t gone well yet, but I’ll back the Cowleys’ all the way.
MC: After winning your first three matches without conceding, Portsmouth have failed to win in your last seven games and have fallen to 13th - what has caused such a dip in form?
FW: A myriad of reasons. Key injuries haven’t helped, Clark Robertson and Connor Ogilvie are both out and would be strong options at LCB in a 3-4-1-2. We’ve had to play Shaun Williams there, who’s a midfielder.
Changing the shape a lot hasn’t helped but needs to be done so Cowley can figure out his best starting XI. But for me, individual errors has cost the team the most, at both ends of the pitch. Every defensive mistake is getting punished by the opposition, and the forwards aren’t converting enough chances. Inconsistency has been a killer so far.
MC: Would you say that the minimum expectation for Cowley is to reach the playoffs, or are fans willing to give him time to build a new squad?
FW: The aim for every Portsmouth season in League One is promotion, no more and no less. But on paper, the squad isn’t there yet, and most of the fans believe that this will be a transition year.
Without stronger squad depth, I think Pompey will compete for the playoffs but ultimately miss them, finishing around eighth or ninth, and the supporters won’t get on the manager's back if that happens, well, they shouldn’t anyway. Considering Kenny Jackett had four seasons as manager, Danny Cowley deserves and should get time.
MC: Similar to Sunderland, Portsmouth had a huge turnover in players across the summer and lost the core of a team who were always close to promotion. Were fans frustrated by what seemed like cuts in the wage bill?
FW: It depends who you ask whether it’s a cut in the wage bill. I’m happy Pompey didn’t spend £10k a week Charlie Wyke money for anyone and overpay existing players to stay, but it was frustrating to miss on certain transfer targets.
Pompey needed a culture change after missing out on promotion so many times, so the player turnover isn’t surprising. I like the blend of higher division experience and youth, but the fans think there are a few spots missing, another right-footed centre-back and a striker being a few of them.
MC: Of the players you the club signed in the summer, who has impressed you the most and why?
FW: Gavin Bazunu has been an immense presence since arriving on loan from Man City. I was worried about him replacing Craig MacGillivray, because he was an excellent shot-stopper, but you can see the international quality Bazunu has at only 19 years-old. He plays out from the back expertly and commands his area strongly, short-term, but a great signing.
Mahlon Romeo at RWB on loan from Millwall brings obvious Championship quality and Joe Morrell is a great passer of the ball in midfield while having the pace to cover both ends of the pitch. Those are the standouts so far.
MC: On the other hand, which of the players who left do you think you are missing the most?
FW: I don’t miss many of the players who left, as I don’t think they would make the side better at present. Losing Ben Close – a local lad and an academy product – was rough for sentimental reasons.
The only player I miss on the pitch is Jack Whatmough. His ball-playing quality would fit this back here formation perfectly, an area the Blues are sorely lacking. But Wigan gave him a three-year deal, which Pompey probably weren’t willing to do because of his injury history.
MC: Since Sunderland’s relegation to League One, Portsmouth have always been a bogey team of ours, but the Fratton Park curse was broken last season. Do you think Portsmouth have now lost their fear factor with Sunderland?
FW: From a Sunderland perspective, there’s no reason to fear Pompey at present. The travelling down south will be rough and the atmosphere will be rocking as usual, but on the pitch, the Blues can be got at.
The lack of depth is an issue if they play a back three and if they play a 4-2-3-1, they’ve lacked the potency down the wing and control of midfield they had under the other system. Like I said, it’s an incomplete team, but they’ll give blood, sweat and tears for the shirt and make things difficult.
MC: Who are the eleven players that you expect Cowley to select and how has he changed the style of play from the Kenny Jackett days?
FW: The change in the style of play is night and day. It’s no longer direct and aimless for the sake of it, they look to control the midfield in possession, play out from the back but not stubbornly so, attack with pace, and press intensely off the ball.
Unfortunately, individual errors have led to incomplete performances. I can see what the side want to do, they’re just not executing it yet. Given the poor results, and Cowley’s willingness to change things – he said he might give more fringe players after Tuesday's poor result against Burton – it could be anything, but here’s my best guess.
3-4-1-2: Bazunu – Williams, Raggett, Freeman, Brown, Morrell, Tunnicliffe, Romeo, Harness, Curtis, Hackett.
MC: Lastly, what is your honest prediction of the final score?
FW: 1-2 Sunderland win. Obviously I want to be wrong and hope the Pompey continue to be a bogey team, but the Blues haven’t shown enough for me on the pitch yet to think otherwise, and the Black Cats are bang in form. We’ll have to wait and see, hopefully I’m wrong.