Portsmouth vs Bristol Rovers Preview
By Jim Bonner
Updated Friday, 12th February 2016
A pivotal game in Pompey's season.
Pompey take on high-flying Bristol Rovers tomorrow knowing that another defeat would seriously derail their promotion challenge.
Paul Cook has confirmed that Ben Davies will be restored to the starting eleven after being rested last week and Adam Webster may also be restored after his slight injury. Cook may also make other changes as he contemplates which formation to utilise.
Rovers manager Darrell Clarke has a fully fit squad to choose from and they will be well rested after their match with AFC Wimbledon was called off last weekend.
Pompey are currently in their worst run of form of the season having won only one of the last six league games and all of a sudden the fans are getting restless after key games against Oxford and Leyton Orient were lost.
Bristol Rovers are currently two points clear of Portsmouth but have played an extra game and so should Paul Cook's men win tomorrow's pivotal encounter then that would be enough to silence the boo boys for now.
The problem is going to be how Pompey can win such an important match with the pressure piling on and the chances created being few and far between.
Hopefully Cook will put an end to his 4-4-2 experiment which has once again failed to deliver. It may be harsh to judge Michael Smith based on just two games but perhaps he would be more effective coming off the bench if Pompey need to play a more direct style of football.
The midfield's capability to create chances will be key to winning this game and the likes of Gary Roberts and Kyle Bennett will have critics to prove wrong after their poor performances against Orient. Perhaps the manager will drop one or even both of them and maybe give Ben Tollitt a chance to prove himself?
Speaking of midfield creativity, Liam Lawrence returns to Fratton Park tomorrow and anyone who remembers the dire defeat to Shrewsbury last season will recall how he bossed the midfield when playing in a central role. Michael Doyle and Ben Close will have to ensure they stop him supplying the likes of Matty Taylor (not that one) who has an excellent goalscoring record this season.
This is a difficult game to call and could be a cagey affair with Rovers likely to play a wing back formation and try and nick a goal on the counter. Should they grab an early goal then it'll be interesting to see how quickly the home fans turn on the team after many booed on the final whistle last week.
Hopefully that won't happen and Cook proves just how good a manager he is by inspiring his team to a victory that will change the mood around Fratton Park for the better.
Predicted Starting Line-Ups
GK: Ryan FULTON
RB: Ben DAVIES
CB: Christian BURGESS
CB: Adam WEBSTER
LB: Enda STEVENS
DM: Michael DOYLE
DM: Ben CLOSE
RM: Gareth EVANS
AM: Adam McGURK
LM: Gary ROBERTS
CF: Marc McNULTY
GK: Steve MILDENHALL
RWB: Lee BROWN
CB: Tom PARKES
CB: Tom LOCKYER
CB: James CLARKE
LWB: Daniel LEADBITTER
CM: Stuart SINCLAIR
CM: Liam LAWRENCE
CM: Lee MANSELL
CF: Rory GAFFNEY
CF: Matty TAYLOR
Last Time: Portsmouth 3 Bristol Rovers 2 (League Two - 19/04/2014)
Adam Webster gave Pompey an early lead with a strike outside the box but Rovers were soon level when Matt Harrold's deflected effort beat Trevor Carson. Andy Awford's side retook the lead when a short corner was blasted in by Danny Hollands via Ryan Taylor but Harrold equalised immediately by heading in a cross.
Wes Fogden managed to bundle in the winner in the second half to finish off the spirited Pirates and the result virtually meant Pompey were safe from relegation and Awford would get the manager's job on a permanent basis.
You would expect a reaction after last weekend's dreadful performance but Rovers come into this game fresher and a draw would be better for them than it would be for Pompey, so that's exactly the result I expect.
Portsmouth 1 Bristol Rovers 1