Are Portsmouth Ready To Fight At The Top Of The Table?

At the beginning of the season, Portsmouth manager, Jay Sadler, might not have publicly admitted it but he will rightly have believed that his blues side could mount a title challenge. An opening day 2-0 defeat to Watford wasn’t in the script but certainly wasn’t anything to panic about.

An 8-0 win against newly formed Hounslow was sandwiched between two cup wins.

Portsmouth went into their third league game against Oxford United looking to make a statement of intent and defeat a side which did the double over them last year. The game couldn’t have got off to a worse start when Kayleigh Hines put Oxford ahead. Portsmouth rallied but fell to a 4-1 defeat with the only real cause for celebration a first goal for 16-year-old Mia Adaway.

With a host of games being postponed due to poor weather, cup fixtures and internationals, Portsmouth were sitting in the lower half of the table while the likes of Watford, Plymouth and Crawley Wasps open up a gap at the top.

An away fixture at Crawley Wasps saw the return of beach soccer stars, Hannah Haughton and Katie James. Mel Burns deputised well between the sticks but Haughton is one of the strongest keepers at this level and the opposition have to be at their absolute best if they dream of getting passed her. This game was the ideal opportunity to make some ground on those at the top of the league and show that they weren’t flat-track bullies.

The game was an even affair but at 1-1 James received her marching orders after being adjudged for have kicked out a Megan Stow. Portsmouth put in a spirited performance while down to ten but a brace from Emma Plewa saw the blues to slip to another defeat against one of the league’s top sides.

Looking at the quality of players available this shouldn’t be the case! A midfield with the likes of Jade Bradley, Katie James, Roxy Lee-Stewart, Danielle Rowe and Becky Bath is arguably the strongest in the division. While the addition of Rosie McDonnell, a league winner with Coventry United, should add a further winning mentality.

For me, there was a lot of pressure on Sadler’s side going into their away tie against Cardiff City, another side who picked up six points against Portsmouth last season. This was their opportunity to claw back points on those above them and also make a statement that the sides above them need to watch out.

Portsmouth were given a boost with the signing of Molly Clark. Clark is another member of Team GB’s beach soccer silver medal-winning side at the recent ANOC games, as well as a hugely influential player for Chichester City last season. Clark is top class and would walk into any side in this league and many in the Championship, so this is a big statement of intent from Portsmouth. 

It looked like deja vu all over again when the blues went one down to Jasmine Turner’s goal. Tamsin de Bunsen quickly cancelled out her goal and levelled things up. On 75 minutes, an Eilidh Currie’s stunner gave all three points to Portsmouth, they now sit in seventh but with games in hand on Yeovil Town, Plymouth and Cardiff.

Over December and January Portsmouth have a run of fixtures which sees them take on Yeovil, Watford, Plymouth and Cardiff. This weekend’s win will give them belief that they can win all of those games and put genuine pressure on the top three. While Jade Widdows is recovering from surgery I have every faith that Charmaine True, Bath and de Bunsen can continue to lead the line and provide the goals to do just that. 

This National League run-in is going to be fascinating. I’d struggle to make any predictions on how it is going to turn out but I do believe that Portsmouth has what it takes to compete with the best and if they can keep every fit then I wouldn’t put it passed them for a top-five finish. I can’t wait to watch it unfold. 

Stuart Barker
hellosince71@gmail.com