• Adam Stubbings

Opposition Talk: Portsmouth

Doncaster Rovers are back in league action this Saturday after the international break, heading to the South coast to take on Portsmouth. Leading up to the game, we speak to radio host and Portsmouth fan Jake Smith to get the lowdown on Pompey, discussing the game, his team’s start to the season and more, including Project Big Picture and a certain centre forward with a common connection to both clubs.

Jake can be found on Twitter @JakePompeySmith and he can also be heard talking all things Portsmouth FC on Express FM and Love Sport Radio. Read on for our interview and stay tuned to Into The Empty Net for our dedicated Match Preview later this week.

ITEN: How would you judge Portsmouth’s start to the season?

Jake: There’s no shying away from the fact that it has been a slow start to the season for Pompey. Goalless draws against Shrewsbury and Rochdale, followed by a defeat at home to Wigan Athletic, were not results scripted into the opening month we had planned. However, since then the Blues have bounced back with consecutive victories, first defeating Burton Albion by 4 goals to 2 before seeing off MK at home in the most recent fixture.

In truth, the frustration lies within how these results have come as opposed to the scorelines which have ensued. Creativity has been lacking, the shaken-up defence has been lacklustre and the once-prolific John Marquis is being tried in a system which simply does not suit the way he plays best.

All in all our start to the campaign has been sluggish although results do appear to be picking up, along with performances to match. A big month of football awaits though, as Pompey are set to face some teams who will actually be up there come May, so the true test of our ability and concentration really begins against Doncaster on Saturday.

There appears to be a growing ill sentiment towards Kenny Jackett amongst fans. Would you say criticism of him is fair, and would you like to see a change in management?

Kenny Jackett is a manager with vast experience in the lower-leagues of English football and has a record of getting teams out of this division – that cannot be argued. However, many believe that his style of play is outdated and that the slow-tempo, defensive-minded, patient brand of football is something which should have been left in the early 2010s. It’s difficult to disagree.

From a business point of view, and if you were to look at Kenny’s record at Portsmouth based solely on statistics and achievement, you would probably be scratching your head as to why Blues supporters want him gone. Since his appointment prior to the start of the 2017/18 campaign, Jackett has secured an 8th placed finish in his first season with a squad which had just been promoted from League Two, back-to-back Play-Off finishes and consecutive EFL Trophy finals.

Unfortunately, as mentioned before, it’s the style of football mixed with a lack of passion shown on the touchline which has sent Pompey fans to the end of their wits. Odd decisions to drop key players in Play-Off campaigns mixed with bizarre post-match comments in interviews and a deprivation of any connection with fans has led many to believe that a change is needed.

Once again, I find it hard to argue against that, however I do also see the point of view of the board, who have Kenny contracted until the end of this season and had set a 5-year goal to reach the Championship - we have just entered the 4th year (of that plan) so you could counter and say that we are on track. I’m very much on the fence with this one and if I’m being honest, I struggle to comprehend who we could bring in to replace him at the moment.

Are there any areas of the squad in desperate need of additions ahead of Friday’s transfer deadline?

The notable weakness within the squad at present is the defence. Lee Brown and Cam Pring look to be settled in battling for the left-back spot so we appear to be fine there for now, whilst Callum Johnson is keeping James Bolton out of the squad on the opposite flank, but there is a lack of decent cover in the middle of the back-four.

Academy graduate Jack Whatmough has been in the frame of the senior team for eight years now and is finally settling into a regular starting role at the club, following a string of nasty injuries and a number of proven centre-halves keeping him out of the team in seasons gone by.

The re-signing of Sean Raggett on a permanent deal in the summer looked to be one which could pay off following his pre-lockdown form, however his performances have returned to the same level shown at the start of his loan deal last term. Paul Downing - a former Doncaster Rovers player - is the forgotten man who is unlikely to come back into the frame no matter what happens, and Rasmus Nicolaisen has only featured in one league match to date, though his showings against MK and Southend in the EFL Trophy last week should have been enough to earn him a starting position for this weekend’s clash.

In my opinion cover at centre-back is needed, as well as a fresh face in midfield to accompany Tom Naylor – though it baffles me as to how Bryn Morris is starting over Ben Close or Andy Cannon.

John Marquis is a Rovers legend and someone many fans want to see doing well, yet he has been a substitute the last couple of games in the league. What are your thoughts on the striker and his role in the Pompey team?

John Marquis is a proven goalscorer. Period. However, he does not fit into Kenny Jackett’s system. The gaffer likes to play lofted balls over the top and there always seems to be gaps in midfield, meaning that the striker either has to come in deep to receive the ball and create opportunities for himself or be willing to win aerial duels and help support the wide-men.

Ellis Harrison has been superb since coming into the side and has achieved all of that, scoring a couple of goals too. Whilst I know Marquis is prolific, it seems to be that Harrison is the man for the job under the current regime. I do not wish for the former Doncaster talisman to depart as I hope there is a future for him at the club, but his abilities are wasted here under the influence of this manager’s tactics.

Where do you stand on “Project Big Picture”, the proposals that have caused much debate across the leagues this week?

This proposal is ludicrous. Whilst there appear to be some big positives to take from the ideas laid out, nothing is to say that those leading it will stick to their word. I’m yet to fully do my research into it as I plan to highlight it more towards the end of this week, but from what I have seen so far it’s ultimately a mixture of two big end-results: The “Big Six” of the Premier League controlling the professional game and potentially paving the way to holding leverage over the clubs below them to basically do as they wish – and it’s just an unnecessary way of reshaping a football ladder which is working.

The sentiment behind Premier League clubs looking out for their less-wealthy competitors is great, though I believe there are much better ways of giving financial aid than to completely fix a system which is not broken. I am glad to see Supporters’ Trusts of these Premier League teams release statements of support for the lower-league sides, though saddened to hear that the EFL seem up for the idea.

Could this be the death of English football? Maybe. However I am positive that this could end up in the bin as the plans for ‘League 3’ did a couple of years ago following strong opposition.

What is your hope for Portsmouth this season? Does it marry up to the expectation of the club?

Hope and expectation within me leads toward another Play-Off finish at the very least. Following heartbreak in consecutive Play-Off campaigns, on top of the fact that we have still never won a match in that lottery throughout our entire history, means that fans demand Pompey go one better this season and secure promotion more comfortably.

With the start to the campaign we have had and weighing up the challengers at the top this season, I struggle to see the Blues finishing in the top two - it would take quite some doing although I wouldn’t 100% rule it out. A top six finish would be an achievement within itself and automatics would be an added bonus, though if promotion is not secured this season via any of these methods it could spell curtains for Kenny Jackett at Fratton Park, especially seeing as his contract is up at the end of this campaign.

Finally, what are your thoughts on this Saturday’s game?

It’s going to be our toughest test yet as we started the season playing sides who are tipped to either be relegation fodder or lower-to-mid-table. Doncaster will threaten us more than any side we have come up against so far and we will more than likely be exposed on the flanks.

This match will be the true test to see where Portsmouth are at and whether or not we can assert ourselves as contenders amongst the better sides in the division, whilst I also wouldn’t get too carried away if we did end up winning. I can’t see us doing that, however I envisage recent performances and the momentum from a three-game winning streak will at least guide the Blues to a strong enough performance to avoid defeat. 2-2 is the scoreline I am predicting.

Our thanks again to Jake for speaking to us - be sure to check out our Match Preview ahead of the game and tune in to our social media channels - @DRFC_ITEN on both Twitter and Instagram, available at the top of the site - on Saturday afternoon for live coverage of the game.