Pompey’s persistent failure to perform against League Two’s bottom half is threatening to destroy their promotion aspirations.
That is the stark verdict of Paul Cook as he seeks to resolve what has developed into the Blues’ Achilles heel.
Pompey’s players have this week been handed two days off to reinvigorate following a punishing recent fixture list.
But Cook’s overriding concern centres on regularly poor results against sides residing in the table’s final 12.
Tomorrow’s opponents Mansfield currently sit 11th and have failed to defeat a side in the top 12 all season.
In contrast, only one of the top seven have beaten Pompey this term.
Delving deeper, according to Cook, the Blues are second in the table in terms of results against the top-half teams.
In comparison, they are 14th based on encounters against the bottom 12 – including last weekend’s dismal Newport County humbling.
And Cook is aware a turnaround is a necessity if they are to break out of League Two.
He said: ‘Our style of play in relation to the game against Newport was a crime, an absolute crime.
‘We can’t offer those performances to our supporters after Accrington.
‘If you look at the good days we’ve had this year, there have been a lot of them. There have been some tremendous performances – the Ipswich games, Derby, Bristol Rovers at home, Northampton.
‘But we haven’t had great displays against the lower teams in the league and there’s a message in that.
‘Our results against the bottom 12 would put us 14th in the league – our record against the top half puts us second.
‘And that is in a year when Northampton have won a ridiculous amount of games.
‘It’s not the last-minute goals which have cost us, it’s those type of performances against Yeovil at home, Mansfield at home, Morecambe at home, Stevenage at home. Where are all those teams in the league?
‘Yet we beat Bristol Rovers, we beat Cambridge, we battered Bournemouth and we beat Ipswich. We played Accrington three times and never lost, only Oxford in the top-six have beaten us.
‘We haven’t put teams under enough pressure. Newport played 60 minutes at our place not being put under enough pressure, that’s not right.
‘And that problem will be solved.’
Pompey occupy sixth place with 10 fixtures remaining.
And Cook’s hoping a week without a match can have a positive impact.
He added: ‘The week has been good in terms of the players getting a break. The lads who have played a lot of minutes got two days off.
‘Hopefully, that gets a little bit of freshness back into them and you go again.
‘I am not going to say we were tired against Newport because I don’t believe we were. Tiredness doesn’t wash with me.’