Saturday saw the official climax of the 2015/16 League Two season, with Paul Cook’s men finishing in a solid sixth position, meaning that play-offs are just around the corner!
This week will see the Blues play two gruelling fixtures against fifth-placed side Plymouth Argyle, who have consistently been knocking on the door of automatic promotion all season. Fans had to wait until Saturday to see whether their side would get the home leg second, but it was the Pilgrims who came out on top after taking advantage of Pompey’s dropped points.
The two league matches between the sides in 2015/16 have been extremely close encounters, with the Blues scoring two penalties at Home Park to come away with a 2-1 win, yet Argyle got their revenge just three weeks ago in front of the Fratton Faithful, also winning by two-goals-to-one.
Despite Pompey having lost to champions Northampton at the weekend, a weakened side took to the field, with manager Cook opting to rest the likes of star-man Gary Roberts and formidable centre-back Christian Burgess. Meanwhile, Plymouth were wiping the floor with Craig Hignett’s Hartlepool United, romping to a 5-0 win and building up confidence ahead of this week’s huge semi-final – one that is almost impossible to predict.
What is certain is the overwhelming atmosphere that will greet the Blues players both home and away. Considering tickets completely sold out for April’s league match against Plymouth at Fratton Park, the same can be expected for the game on Thursday. Additionally, with Pompey fans queuing up from 1am on Sunday morning to secure one of the 1,700 allocated for the away leg and the lot selling out within hours, the greeting from the away end in Devon will also be quite remarkable.
One thing Cook must be wary of is the injury list that has piled up for Pompey in recent weeks. A goalkeeper crisis against Hartlepool has already occurred, with no shot-stopper named on the bench, and defensive problems are also starting to creep into the squad.
Both Adam Webster and Matt Clarke were said to be injured on Saturday, failing to make the squad, while fellow centre-back Jack Whatmough made his first start of the season for the Blues on the weekend after a long spell on the sidelines. This has resulted in central midfielder Adam Barton stepping in alongside regular Burgess.
Another area of concern for the Dockyard Derby is the issue surrounding Marc McNulty, who has been out with injury in recent weeks. As our joint top goalscorer, alongside Conor Chaplin, he has been resolute up front since joining from Sheffield United in November and could play a crucial part in the play-offs, if fit.
The Scotsman’s injury has sparked rumours of a return to Portsmouth for Matt Tubbs, who was loaned to Eastleigh in February. Since joining the Blues in 2015, last season’s League Two top goalscorer has netted 14 times in 39 appearances, proving his worth in front of goal.
Whether this happens or not, Portsmouth stand in a good position ahead of this week’s huge semi-final first-leg. The fact both clubs have a large following and a history to be proud of also means that more is at stake and, with Sunday marking the sixth anniversary of the Blues’ 2010 FA Cup Final against Chelsea, they’ll be hoping to do nothing more than seal their place back at Wembley with victory against Argyle.