Pompey 1 Doncaster 2: What We Learnt
JORDAN CROSS looks back at the 2-1 defeat against Doncaster to see what we learnt from the game...
A week is a long time in politics - well, it can be an eternity in the life and times of Portsmouth Football Club.
And so it proved, as Paul Cook sat in the Fratton Park press room on Saturday after his team had managed to serve up performances which had resulted in two league defeats on the bounce.
Cook highlighted how he’d been perched in the same place seven days previously and could taste the feelgood factor outside after emphatically putting Barnet to the sword.
Now, Pompey’s defensive deficiencies have contributed to two defeats on the bounce and seen the early-season optimism drain.
Looking at the manner of the goals shipped tells you everything about where Cook’s side came up short.
But the way in which Pompey started slowly was a major factor in their undoing - an issue highlighted by their manager.
Doncaster didn’t do anything the Blues didn’t expect - as their strikers set the tone for their hard-grafting approach and pressed the home side high up the pitch.
Cook prepared his team for that, however, and, no doubt, part of the plan was to turn Donny around by using a more direct approach.
Carl Baker took advantage of a gift from Joe Wright just before the beak, and it seemed a platform was built for a comeback.
The pattern was set in the second half as Pompey had the better of it, and, despite not really firing, there were chances which went begging.
Conor Chaplin, Milan Lalkovic, Curtis Main and, most clearly, Christian Burgess and Gary Roberts had those.
Pompey though, had given themselves a mountain to climb. On this occasion they couldn’t complete the ascent.
Three clean sheets on the bounce was a cornerstone of Pompey’s recent winning run of form.
But the five goals conceded in the past two games have proved concerning - and clearly preventable.
On Tuesday at Blackpool, a preventable free-kick was conceded and that was followed by Danny Rose being caught in the ball for the second after Tom Davies played him into trouble.
Then Davies was caught on the ball for Ryan Vassell’s third.
The mistakes led to Davies losing his place after six league starts on the bounce, and Christian Burgess being shifted to a preferred right-sided centre-half position with Matt Clarke making a first league start.
But Burgess will be disappointed with his positioning for Doncaster’s first goal from Pompey old boy John Marquis. Likewise, David Forde, who was beaten as he charged off his line, despite Clarke being in the vicinity.
The second made for more uncomfortable viewing, as Burgess was caught between attacking the first header from a routine free-kick, and dropping off and dealing with Andy Williams’ run.
In the end he did neither, although he may have expected some support.
The goals being shipped, though, have owed less to impressive play and more to a fragility surfacing at the heart of Pompey’s defence.
Finding a miserly approach again will be a key issue in improving.
When times are tough you can bet your life it’s Michael Doyle whose head is thrust above the parapet.
The Pompey captain is the interview equivalent of the grim reaper, as he’s sent out to deal with the press corps almost exclusively in times of adversity.
And so it proved, as the Irishman fronted up yet again in the wake of Saturday’s frustration.
Doyle, as you would guess from his style of play, deals with questioning in honest and no-nonsense fashion.
So to hear his considered tones to where the problems lie for Pompey is revealing.
If it was down to a lack of desire or some of the more basic qualities needed for success, it would be simple.
Doyle doesn’t believe things are quite that straightforward.
The 35-year-old was respectful to the challenge offered by Doncaster, while, at the same time noting, they triumphed without needing to be spectacular. Likewise, Blackpool.
But observations his side are exhibiting naive and sloppy traits were revealing.
Pompey are undoubtedly a more talented outfit than most they face, but Doyle feels a form of panic sets in when opponents don’t bow to their superiority.
It chimes perfectly with his manager’s metaphor of Pompey being the champion boxer who gets caught cold, and wakes up in the dressing room wondering where it all went wrong.