What Went Wrong?

Last updated : 17 May 2016 By Jim Bonner

When Paul Cook was asked at the start of the 2015/2016 campaign what his aim for the season was he simply replied "promotion, no messing about."

Whilst Pompey have had their best season for four years, Cook's team have ultimately failed to deliver what they set about to do in August despite being favourites to win League Two.

So, why couldn't this set of players get the job done? Here are the main reasons:

1) Conceding late goals

It's the obvious one, but Paul Cook's Portsmouth side surrendered eight points during stoppage time in league matches this season. Stevenage snatched a draw at Fratton Park whilst late equalisers for Carlisle, Morecambe (curse Barry Roche) and Exeter were costly.

Had Pompey not conceded these goals, those extra points would have resulted in automatic promotion. It should be remembered tat Ipswich also took the FA Cup tie to a replay thanks to a late goal whilst Bristol Rovers, Cambridge and Accrington also bagged less meaningful goals in stoppage time.

This Achilles heel was well and truly punctuated by Plymouth's last-minute winner at Home Park yesterday and there has to be an inquest into why so many goals are conceded so late in matches.

Does the defence lack a leader? Was it a mistake to let such a character as Paul Robinson leave? Has the lack of a commanding goalkeeper been an issue? Is there a deeper lying mental issue within the team that sees them retreat into their shell when the clock ticks past ninety minutes or are they simply not fit enough?

Cook has plenty of questions to answer ahead of next season.

2) Struggling to break poor teams down

Pompey's second away game of the season at Crawley would foreshadow what was to come for much of the season. The Red Devils virtually played with eleven men behind the ball for the entire game and although Matt Tubbs had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, the game finished goalless and the home fans celebrated as if they'd won.

This attitude would be adopted by many other teams this season and Pompey simply struggled to break them down as they played for a draw, especially at Fratton Park. Accrington, Yeovil, Mansfield, Wimbledon and Luton all escaped Portsmouth with a goalless draw.

Teams will undoubtedly utilise this tactic again next season and so Paul Cook needs to come up with a plan B to beat these stubborn teams. In fairness, Pompey didn't feature in any goalless draws whatsoever in 2016 but all of those dropped points, again, proved costly.

One way of rectifying this problem may well be to find a striker capable of banging in twenty goals next season. It's a telling statistic that only Marc McNulty (11) and Gareth Evans (10) broke double figures when it came to scoring league goals this campaign.

Of course, Paul Cook could already have an answer to his goalscoring problem if he would only give Conor Chaplin the game time he deserves.

3) Failing to take the initiative when in a commanding league position

Cast your mind back to September 26th when Pompey had just beaten Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Ground and went to the top of the league. That time at the top barely lasted as Paul Cook's men suffered their first defeat of the season to Exeter the following Tuesday and then followed that up with a goalless draw with lowly Yeovil. The chance to take control of League Two was gone.

Come late December and Pompey had claimed their biggest scalp of the season by beating Northampton at Sixfields. It was a result that should have stated that Pompey were going to challenge for the title heading into 2016 but instead they imploded at Leyton Orient and, once again, followed that defeat up with a stalemate with Andy Awford's mediocre Luton side. The Cobblers, on the other hand, haven't lost a league game since then.

There was a wobble in January but because the nature of League Two means that it will always give teams chances to establish themselves as top three challengers, it seemed like automatic promotion was back on when Bristol Rovers were soundly beaten at Fratton Park. Instead, Pompey turned in their worst performance of the season by losing 1-0 at Barnet and were then lucky to escape Yeovil with a 1-1 draw.

Yet again, chances would come for Paul Cook's men to keep destiny in their own hands as Accrington were beaten 3-1 at the Crown Ground. Again, that result was followed by a 3-0 hammering at home by Newport County and then an uninspiring 1-1 draw at Mansfield.

The final example of this tedious knack of failing to keep a grip on the top three came with the defeat to the late Plymouth and then the abysmal result at York. It had fans scratching their heads as to how this team could blow it so many times during the course of the season and simply underlines that this current Portsmouth team are not good enough to win promotion.

This mental issue, whether it be down to not being able to handle the pressure of staying at the top of the division or just sheer arrogance in thinking that, having beaten a difficult team, they can just turn up and roll over the poorer sides. Perhaps another experienced head is required around the club to assure that the players keep their feet on the ground and the egos in check.

Whilst it may seem that this piece is overly negative, it is also fair. What shouldn't be forgotten, however, is that there have been plenty of positives to take from this season and Cook got plenty of things right.

He rarely made a bad signing, he got his team playing some excellent football for the division they are in and he has always been honest with the fans. He simply needs to address the problems outlined above for next season and then there'll be no reason why Pompey fans won't be celebrating promotion (and maybe the title) this time next season.