A place in the League One Playoffs final will be on the line on Thursday when Portsmouth welcome Sunderland to Fratton Park.
The Playoff season continues in the lower leagues of English football, with only the second leg encounters in League One yet to be played. The marquee fixture will see Portsmouth play hosts to Sunderland at Fratton Park, hoping to overturn the slim deficit procured from the first leg last week.
Portsmouth are suffering another blip in form at the worst possible time of the season, with promotion to the Championship on the line. Pompey have now failed to win each of their last four games, and need a win at all costs if they are to progress to the final.
Sunderland, on the other hand, overturned a four-game winless run of their own in their narrow victory over Kenny Jackett’s men. Another such performance should see the Black Cats book their place in the Playoff final later this month.
The first leg, played at the Stadium of Light last week, was a drab affair that saw Sunderland narrowly beat Portsmouth 1-0. Ahead of the latest meetings between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the League One Playoff semi-final encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Kenny Jackett is sweating over the fitness of key duo Lee Brown (Achilles) and Brett Pitman (knee). With the two being crucial for Portsmouth’s output on either end of the pitch, the manager will be keen on getting the players fit for Thursday’s encounter.
Meanwhile, Dion Donohue (groin) and Jack Whatmough (knee) are certain absentees for Pompey. Brown ought to line up on the left side of the Portsmouth defence, if fit, while Pitman, who should be the central striker, will lead the side out on to the field.
In case Pitman is unavailable, Oliver Hawkins should lead the line for the hosts, while Anton Walkes will be the left-back in Brown’s stead should he be unable to prove his fitness. The rest of the side should remain unchanged from the previous game.
The onus in attack will be on Jamal Lowe and Ronan Curtis to provide a sustained threat from the wide areas, while Gareth Evans will be manning the central areas. Tom Naylor and Ben Close will be the two players hoping to thwart the Sunderland build-ups in the middle of the park.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): MacGillivray; Thompson, Burgess, Clarke, Brown; Close, Naylor; Lowe, Evans, Curtis; Pitman
The big news after the first leg surrounded Alim Ozturk’s dismissal midway through the second half. The Turkish centre-back’s suspension has been lifted following Sunderland’s successful appeal to get the decision from the first leg overturned, which comes as a huge boost for the Black Cats.
Ozturk should line up at the heart of the Sunderland defence, with Tom Flanagan being his partner. Luke O’Nien and Bryan Oviedo ought to be the two full-backs, with the latter posing the greater threat in the final third.
Max Power and Lee Cattermole will man the double pivot in midfield, aiming to keep things tight in the middle of the park. But, the big decision will concern the availability of Aiden McGeady, who pulled up in the warm-up ahead of the first leg.
In his absence, Chris Maguire, the match-winner of the first leg, should start out on the right flank, with Lewis Morgan, George Honeyman and Charlie Wyke keeping their places in the side.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): McLaughlin; O’Nien, Ozturk, Flanagan, Oviedo; Cattermole, Power; Maguire, Honeyman, Morgan; Wyke
- Portsmouth are unbeaten in seven home matches against Sunderland (W5 D2) since losing 4-1 in a second-tier meeting in November 1997.
- Portsmouth have never won a play-off match in five attempts (W0 D2 L3), with both of their home games ending in 2-2 draws – against Leicester City in 1992-93 and Plymouth Argyle in 2015-16.
- The last League One side to overturn a first leg play-off deficit and reach the final were Yeovil Town in 2012-13 against Sheffield United.
- Kenny Jackett has never lost a home play-off match (P3 W2 D1 L0). Should Portsmouth go through to the final, it would be Jackett’s fourth play-off final as a manager, with only Neil Warnock having reached more (5).
- Chris Maguire has found the net in his previous two League One games, including play-off matches. Maguire hasn’t scored in three consecutive Football League games since January 2014 for Sheffield Wednesday.
Player to Watch
The first leg was a dull game, with Portsmouth struggling to impose themselves away from home. Now, with their promotion hopes hanging in the balance, they need their best player, Jamal Lowe to stand up and deliver when he is needed the most.
Lowe endured an outing to forget at the Stadium of Light, but if he can manage to rediscover his best form, he might just inspire Pompey to the Playoff final, set to be played later this month. A game wherein he cannot afford to be sub-par, considering just how crucial he is to Portsmouth’s fortunes.
Portsmouth 1-1 Sunderland
The first leg provided a marker for the things to come on Thursday, with neither side providing a sustained threat in the final third. Indeed, both the teams have seemingly been far from their best lately, especially when it comes to attacking output.
But, with Portsmouth facing a “now or never” situation, it is likely that we will see a more end-to-end affair on Thursday. But, in the end, the poor end product might prove to be a detriment for Kenny Jackett & co. The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-1 draw, with Sunderland progressing to the League One Playoff final.