Portsmouth’s storm to second in the table hasn’t been particularly surprising, they were tipped as a pre-season favourite and they’re living up to that billing.
The late winner on Tuesday night merely confirmed their status as early pace-setters, already five points clear of the last play off spot. With a lot of football to play there’s little to be gained from a lead like that at this stage, other than confidence.
One of the main reasons for their backing as possible League One winners was the form of Brett Pitman. Last season he smashed 24 goals in 41 outings and he seemed almost certain to keep that record going this time around.
He duly lined up against Luton on the opening day and was on the pitch as Jamal Lowe put them 1-0 up. Pompey went in at half time satisfied with the lead, one which will prove to be strong later in the season as Luton come good.
When they emerged for the second half, there was no Brett Pitman. The striker wasn’t injured, but Ollie Hawkins came on and that is how it has stayed.
Pitman hasn’t started a league game since. He did play against Wimbledon in the EFL Cup, withdrawn on 66 minutes as Pompey crashed out, but he missed wins against Blackpool and Oxford.
There was a late cameo against Bristol Rovers, he came on after Chris Lines scored the equaliser from the spot, then received a horrible challenge from the scorer to send the opponents down to ten men. The fairy-tale would have been him scoring the winner, but he didn’t.
Instead, Pompey have thrived with Ollie Hawkins, a player who started last season with Dagenham, and Ronan Curtis, a capture from the League of Ireland. It seems remarkable that Pitman isn’t in the side, but with ten points from 12, nobody is really complaining.
Hawkins isn’t a goal scorer, he is a target man, a great big lump of a creature who wins 90% of balls in the air. Around him Pompey have players with pace like Lowe, guile like Curtis and experience like Gareth Evans. They poured forward against Oxford, relentless and unyielding, whilst pitman sat on the side-lines thinking of what could be.
There’s no official word on injuries, bust-ups in the camp or anything, perhaps Pompey just feel that Hawkins and the three amigos are worthy of their starts and the 24-goal striker has to fight his way back into the side.
What is scary for opponents is the fact such a reputable player is twiddling his thumbs on the bench and that the so-called reserve striker from pre-season is having such an impact.
The Real EFL feels that perhaps we won’t be writing about Pompey is nine months’ time as they leave us for the bright lights of the Championship. Whether Pitman is along for the ride remains to be seen.