On the face of it, a 4-1 loss looks like a bit of a demolition job, but Portsmouth’s heavy defeat at Crystal Palace was far closer than the scoreline suggests.
But for Pompey, an inability to find that final bit of quality at the end of an attack, be it a shot or a pass, has been costing the side dear all season, and was once again their main enemy on Tuesday evening. With just two goals registered in the league all season – one a rather fortunate deflected effort, the other an absolute gift for Dave Kitson to tap in – the side could find themselves buried in deep trouble if they don’t sort out their goal-phobia before it’s too late. There are numerous culprits for passing up gilt-edged opportunities too. David Nugent all too often looks decidedly nervous in front of goal, lashing at a shot far too rashly when he has time to steady himself or create a better angle. Kitson still looks rusty, as does Kanu, while midfielders Hayden Mullins and Michael Brown seem to get nosebleeds as soon as a goalscoring opportunity presents itself. The side does possess Liam Lawrence, who can unlock any defence in the division, but with the trip to Palace his fourth game in just 10 days, tiredness reared its ugly head for the Republic of Ireland international.
Make no mistake, Pompey had the chances to take three points back to south coast on Tuesday, and with the game poised at 1-1 at half-time, the visitors started the second half brilliantly, creating countless openings, only for the end product to fail them time and again. But 10 minutes into the second period, Pompey were caught with a sucker-punch, and proceeded to fold like a pack of cards. The vital third goal of the game was a terrible one to concede too, as Jamie Ashdown hesitated on a long ball over his defence, allowing hat-trick hero James Vaughan to nip in and clip the ball into the net. It was the second time this season that Ashdown’s indecision has cost Pompey a vital goal, as he was caught in two minds over a through ball in the home game with Cardiff, leading to Jay Bothroyd placing the ball into an unguarded net as Ashdown stood in no-man’s land.
Since David James’s long drawn out summer exit, the No. 1 jersey has been a cause of much debate at Fratton Park, as Ashdown certainly seems to split opinion. The former Reading man has shot-stopping ability for sure, but his reluctance to leave his line for crosses or balls over the defence is a genuine worry. In stark contrast to his predecessor, who was often too quick to rush off his goal-line, Ashdown never looks confident or authoritative when forced to leave his sanctuary. At the very start of the campaign, his admirers could point to the fact he had barely played any football in the last five or so years, so was bound to be rusty. However, that excuse, however genuine it is, or was, will only last so long, and it is looking more and more likely the 29-year-old could end up costing Pompey some vital points this season.
To be fair to the goalkeeper, his defence haven’t looked exactly great this season. Man for man, they did a decent job on Tuesday, but as a unit, they were poor, as Steve Cotterill readily acknowledged. A rickety defence, coupled with a blunt attack can mean only one thing, so Pompey need to solve at least one of those problems fast. Whether it’s just a lack of confidence or something a lot deeper is unknown, but the quality at Cotterill’s disposal should be doing a lot better than they currently are. The likes of Lawrence, Kitson, Mullins, Ricardo Rocha, Nugent and Kanu wouldn’t look out of place in a Premier League side when somewhere near their best, so there’s certainly something wrong somewhere. It might just be a case of waiting for things to click into place, but it is six league games without a win now, and they could leave themselves with a mountain to climb if they’re not careful.
Just like last season, when the side could have at least given themselves a decent chance of staying the league had they not been fighting an uphill battle barely a quarter of the season through. There’s enough quality in the side to easily stay in the division, but that won’t stop Pompey fans fearing the worst as their side sit rooted to the bottom with no win in sight.