“We were the better side and the score masks this, to play really well and end up losing by three goals,” a post match quote from ex-Pompey boss Steve Cotterill after this afternoon’s 3-0 home win to the boys in Blue. The team he manages might have changed but the same old excuses come trotting out at the final whistle when he’s watched his side. I must have missed the comments about how great it was to see a side he fundamentally created starting to gel and get the results that he failed to bring as Manager in the first eleven games in all competitions this season.
In those first eleven games in charge under Steve Cotterill Pompey won only twice, drew three, lost six scoring ten in the process and conceding fourteen. In total they collected just nine points from ten games and got knocked out of the Carling Cup to lower league opposition in the form of Barnet FC. Pompey recorded only three clean sheets and there wasn’t a single game where at least one Pompey player didn’t get booked in each game. Whilst you can point to the quality of some of the opposition during those eleven matches; Middleborough, Cardiff, West Ham and Leeds United being the stand out sides let’s not forget the words of Dave Jones on the first weekend when he pointed to the fact that Pompey on paper can still put out one of the best sides in the league on their day. Whilst our squad may be small we should still have enough to compete with most teams in the league come kick off.
Under the tenure of Guy Whittingham and Stuart Gray who’ve taken charge in the last six games, Pompey have won three times, drawn once, lost twice, scored nine and conceded only five times picking up ten points so far, one more point than Cotterill managed in four games less and with only one extra face added to the squad; that of Razak currently on a month’s loan from Manchester City. They’ve had to cope with the loss of Greg Halford for the Crystal Palace game and of club captain Liam Lawrence today against Forest. In those six games Pompey have recorded a clean sheet three times and more importantly on the discipline front managed to end three of those games having seen no players booked at all. The only down side is that Pompey still await their first away record of the season, though the mid week draw against Crystal Palace will bring hope that this statistic will soon be rectified very soon.
Whilst the first half at Derby County last week was a completely one sided affair, the team did rally around to win the second half 1-0 although in all honesty this was scant consolation as Derby cruised to a 3-0 lead by half time. The second half was testimony to a shift in attitude from the players who seem to want to play for the temporary managers way more than they did under Cotts earlier on in the season. Ricardo Rocha’s return to the side has helped provide more stability in the back four, although we know it’s still not a 100% cohesive unit just yet but things are improving in the right direction and the last two games have brought with them two clean sheets so it’s definitely a massive improvement. The quality of the wins we have managed has also improved as the scorelines would suggest. Yes Forest are only one place above us in the league but they have a great squad and shouldn’t on paper really be where they are now. The 3-1 win against Doncaster Rovers shouldn’t be underrated either after they went to Ipswich Town away who are just outside of the play offs and comfortably strolled to a 3-1 away win. It’s also worth pointing out that in the 1-0 loss to Town, Pompey were the better side and should have in retrospect have recorded their first away win of the season.
Offensively the last six games have seen a total of thirty shots on target; thirty five off target and there have been thirty nine corners in total In terms of discipline Pompey have conceded sixty one fouls, received five yellow cards and seen none of their players sent off.
Averages under Cotterill per game in all competitions, Whittingham and Gray averages in brackets
Shots on target – 4.55 (5)
Shots off target – 6.36 (5.83)
Corners – 5.55 (6.5)
Fouls – 14 (10.17)
Yellow Cards - 2.73 (0.83)
Clean Sheets – 1 in every 3.67 matches (1 in 2)
OK so this isn’t conclusive proof by any means and there will be those who will point to the opposition we’ve played in the last six but football is a results business and in the last six games, we certainly have done way better than the first eleven of the season under Cotterill. The average number of shorts on target has gone up, whilst the figure for shots off target has come down. We’re now on average getting one more corner every game which alludes to the more freedom the players are giving under a 4-4-2 formation which the current managers are employing to great effect. The biggest change is the player’s discipline which has resulted in a huge total of less fouls conceded on average each game and the tally of yellow cards which was in danger of surpassing all league records at one point has now improved beyond all recognition.
Credit should be given to not only the players who’ve responded so well to the new management in recent weeks but also to the temporary two for holding the ship so well until a new manager is finally found.
Typically being Pompey things are dragging on a bit in that respect but hopefully the club will make the right choice eventually and see the continued renewal of results on the pitch. If we can shake the voodoo of the away win of our backs, then we should start to see the side climb up the league into a position of mid table security and stop having to look over our shoulders just yet. I can’t see us as candidates for promotion just yet but it’s nice to see the fortunes on the field slowly starting to turn around. With a 66.67% undefeated record so far it’s a shame that the pair don’t want the jobs fall time. But compared to Cotterill’s record of 45.45% although over a longer period, all signs still point to whoever coming in joining the club at just the right time as things start to hot up on the pitch.
Come on you Blues!!!
P.S. – Steve – wouldn’t it be nice if you changed your post press conference spiel?