Forethoughts on… Blackpool vs. Portsmouth

Blackpool will be looking to extend their recent run of good form in front of the Sky television cameras as they welcome troubled Portsmouth to Bloomfield Road. Here’s your match preview:

1. The Last Meeting
Blackpool and Portsmouth last met back in September at Fratton Park, in what was their first league meeting for 30 years. That day Pompey ran out 1-0 winners courtesy of a stoppage time goal from Erik Huseklepp. It was a game that Blackpool had easily the better of, but failed to convert their best chances before succumbing to a heartbreaking late goal. The man who took a portion of the blame was Matt Phillips, who spurned two very good opportunities – incredible to think that was fewer than five months ago given his dazzling form lately.

Tom Ince was the one who impressed on the South Coast making his first league start, appearing comfortable with the ball at his feet and always a threat for the Portsmouth defence. Yet whereas Phillips has gone from strength to strength since returning from his loan spell at Bramall Lane, Ince has gone backwards slightly and could drop out of the side for this weekend with a glut of other attacking options open to Ian Holloway.

Another curious difference from the last encounter between the two sides was the make up of Blackpool’s substitutes – Mark Halstead, James Hurst, Hill and Daniel Bogdanovic were all on the ‘Pool bench alongside Ludo Sylvestre. Ian Holloway has decided against having a goalkeeper on the bench since the departure of Mark Howard, James Hurst is currently involved in a relegation battle on loan at Chesterfield, Hill hasn’t been seen since his performance at West Ham, while Rochdale opted not to extend the loan of Bogdanovic. The strength of Blackpool’s bench for the return fixture will demonstrate just how far the Seasiders have come since then.

2. How They Play
I asked the good people over at When Sol Went Up for their inside knowledge of Portsmouth. Here’s their view:
Pompey have flitted between 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 all season, although Michael Appleton seems to be playing a 4-4-1-1 of late. By virtue of the tiny squad (the smallest in the league and the second smallest in the Football League), there are not many significant selection dilemmas, other than up front – Portsmouth haven’t scored enough goals this season so are still searching for the best striker combination. Considering the squad issues, Pompey have a number of relatively recognisable options, namely Benjani, Kanu and Dave Kitson – but they are all out of favour at present because Marco Futacs, a young 6ft+ Hungarian has been scoring goals (three goals in six games, a total Kitson has managed in 18 starts).
The next question is who plays in the supporting role – at present Erik Huseklepp the Norwegian striker (who starred in this comical fruit advert) who has shown flashes of quality, but has been frustratingly inconsistent, currently holds the position. The midfield is fairly steady, and David Norris will return having served a recent suspension. He will play alongside Liam Lawrence and Hayden Mullins who both have significant Premier League experience. The other choice to be made is who to drop for Norris – either Kelvin Etuhu (a former Manchester City trainee who was released following a stint in prison following an assault who signed on a free transfer and seems to be doing OK as a strong midfield presence) or Joel Ward a local lad, 20 yrs old and a utility player who was subject to a transfer deadline day bid from Ipswich Town.
There are no choices to be made in defence. Greg Halford will play at right back, Jason Pearce and Ricardo Rocha in the middle and Ben Tal Haim at left back. The defence is solid, the midfield experienced and the current strike partnership youthful and willing. As Blackpool fans you will recognise a number, if not most, Portsmouth players, but the squad has very limited depth and at the moment the club is in turmoil with the financial situation coming to a head (£1.6m is needed by 20th February) with the players and staff unpaid last month. The motivation of the players is the greatest concern, along with awful away form – with just two wins on the road all season, Pompey will go into the game as underdogs.
3. The Key Men
Blackpool – Matt Phillips
Phillips Jnr. is the man everybody’s talking about at the moment, and with some justification. His form over the last couple of months has been sensational and he followed up his two goals at Cardiff City with another strike in mid-week against Sheffield Wednesday. With his confidence high, Portsmouth will do well to keep a tight leash on the former Wycombe man. As mentioned by his manager this week, Phillips appears to have learned that he doesn’t need to snatch at chances, with his shooting now a lot more accurate. Matt Phillips should have had at least one goal down at Fratton Park, and he will be eager to carry on atoning for his wastefulness earlier in the season.
Portsmouth – Marco Futacs (by When Sol Went Up)
21 year old, 6ft 5, and purchased from Wolfsburg, Futacs looked like a punt that had gone wrong until Appleton gave him his chance. Three goals in six starts is a decent return but it is yet to be seen if this is beginner’s luck or whether he will develop into a quality player. He leads the line well and when you have a player with Liam Lawrence’s quality in terms of delivery, a player with Futacs’ height should always be able to get goals. He shouldn’t be so important – Kitson, Benjani and Kanu should all be able to get goals, but they haven’t managed that this season and now the pressure is on Futacs’ substantial shoulders
Blackpool – Ludo Sylvestre
After being rested for the trip to Wales last weekend, Sylvestre returned to the side in the FA Cup and capped a splendid performance with a rare and well-taken goal. Despite this, with competition for places throughout the team so fierce, Sylvestre isn’t a certain starter. However, Ian Holloway has favoured the Frenchman for home games lately when ‘Pool have often set up in an attacking shape, so he could well keep his place. At his best Sylvestre can move the ball quickly and has a penchant for backheels and flicks to frustrate the opposition. With a little more help in midfield if Holloway does opt for a 4-2-1-3 formation, Sylvestre can help Blackpool dominate games.
Portsmouth – Liam Lawrence (by When Sol Went Up)
Lawrence started like a steam train at Fratton Park. He was brought to Portsmouth in what might have been deal of the century with the overrated Marc Wilson going to Stoke and Lawrence, Kitson and a couple of million pounds coming to Pompey. However, Kitson has struggled and Lawrence’s form nose-dived at the end of last year – a recurring injury has meant that he has been unable to recover his form. Yet he still has quality, and with Luke Varney injured and Huseklepp even more inconsistent than Lawrence, the team is overreliant on Lawrence in a similar way to Futacs.
4. The Form Guide
  • Blackpool sit 3rd in the form table based on the last six games with four wins, one draw and one defeat
  • Portsmouth lie 14th in the form table based on the last six games with two wins, one draw and three defeats
  • Blackpool have won their last three home games and are unbeaten in the last seven
  • Portsmouth have the fourth worst away record in the Championship, winning only twice away from Fratton Park

Up The ‘Pool Prediction

With the form Blackpool are currently in, one would expect them to continue this run against a Pompey side under the threat of liquidation. As has been the case in many recent home matches, breaking the deadlock will be the tricky part, but taking the lead at Bloomfield Road is surely overdue as the Seasiders start to set their sights higher than just a play-off place.

Expect Blackpool’s run to continue – 2-0 home win.

Thanks to When Sol Went Up for their contribution to this piece. You can also follow them on twitter – @wswu.