Portsmouth failed to justify English League Two favouritism in each of its first two seasons in England’s fourth tier but there are definite signs that this term will be third time lucky for Paul Cook’s strongly supported side.
Cook led Chesterfield to the English League Two title in 2014 so it was natural that Portsmouth would turn to the promising young manager when it was in the market for a coach to get them out of the English Football League basement. No English League Two team that did not attain promotion last season conceded fewer goals than Cook’s Portsmouth but Pompey fell scoring the goal-scoring department, failing to break down packed defences.
Six rounds into the current English League Two term and Portsmouth is fourth on the ladder with a 3-2-1 record. Portsmouth has recovered from failing to beat Carlisle, Crewe or Morecambe in its first three English League Two matches to post three consecutive divisional victories, defeating Colchester, Exeter and Crawley. Portsmouth’s defensive numbers are English League Two’s finest, with Pompey having leaked a division-low three goals. And Portsmouth’s next English League Two game is at home to Wycombe, which is struggling towards the bottom of the ladder, not least because its crippling injury list.
It would be fair to say that Portsmouth has dominated five of its six English League Two matches, the exception to the rule being its 1-0 away triumph over Exeter in which Gary Roberts netted from the penalty mark in the 85th minute. Portsmouth’s English League Two rivals would not have any cause for complaint if Pompey had a 5-1-0 record, 16 points and a three-point lead at the top of the ladder, such has been their statistical edge over most of their opponents.
Portsmouth has had forced more attempts (104) and given up fewer attempts (34) than any other English League Two side. Remarkably, Portsmouth has taken three times more corner kicks than it has defended, with Pompey having forced 51 corners and given up 17. Portsmouth is ranked either first or joint first for English League Two corner kicks for and against, with only Doncaster boasting similar numbers.
Several bookmakers, including Bet365, Ladbrokes and SkyBet, are quoting Portsmouth at odds of +300 to win English League Two at the third time of asking. One has been reluctant to back Portsmouth in its previous English League Two campaigns because playing Pompey is like a cup final for most fourth-tier teams. But Portsmouth has shown enough in the opening six English League Two rounds for one to believe that it has a better than 25 per cent chance of lifting its first piece of silverware since the 2008 English FA Cup. It feels ridiculous that Portsmouth is available at odds of +300 to take out English League Two nine seasons after it won the world’s oldest knockout competition.
One accepts that many English League Two teams are going to park the bus versus Portsmouth and not just when they rock up at Fratton Park and face the wrath of more than 15,000 Pompey supporters. But Portsmouth has the players in the likes of Milan Lalkovic and Roberts, both of whom are well above English League Two level on their day, to open up opposition defences and turn draws into victories.
Each of Portsmouth’s next three English League Two games are against sides positioned 16th or lower on the ladder, with Pompey encountering Wycombe, Accrington and Barnet before travelling to another famous coastal club, Blackpool.
Portsmouth to Win League Two