Change is afoot at Portsmouth FC after a period of transformation late in the 2022/23 campaign. A fresher approach in the upcoming campaign is likely as Pompey targets a long-awaited return to the Championship, writes Alex Waite.
Portsmouth head coach John Mousinho took the reins in January 2023 following Danny Cowley’s departure. Quickly, Mousinho showed glimpses of promise with back-to-back 2-0 wins against Exeter and Fleetwood. Mousinho then led the club to an 11-match unbeaten run to complete the campaign.
The Australian head coach took Pompey from 15th place to eighth position in the final standings. Although, finishing the season seven points outside the play-offs will perhaps be viewed as a disappointment. This was highlighted by the club’s plummet after being third in the table after just eight matches.
With half a League One campaign and a full season in the tank, Mousinho and Portsmouth will be desperate to perform once the season begins at home against Bristol Rovers on August 5.
The Pompey head coach has tried to implement new attacking tactics. Also, a host of new players have been recruited to support the front foot philosophy at Fratton Park.
Can we expect Mousinho to guide the South Coast club back to the Championship for the first time since 2012? Or will another campaign of difficulty come for Pompey?
Portsmouth on the Attack
Upon his arrival, Mousinho immediately outlined his intentions to play more attractive football.
In his welcome interview, the Australian coach said to the official Portsmouth FC website: “I want our team to play on the front foot, with aggressive and attacking football that will win games and entertain the fans.”
To an extent, Mousinho delivered on his word. Pompey struck at least once in 20 of their 23 matches in the second half of the 2022/23 season.
However, consistency in creating chances and finishing opportunities was a problem throughout the campaign. The club scored the seventh-lowest number of goals from open play in League One (31), as recorded by Opta Analyst. In addition, 61 goals scored in total was also the third lowest among the teams that finished in the top half of League One
Ultimately, the lack of ruthlessness led to six draws in the final seven matches. Converting these stalemates into three points will be a target for Mousinho to help the club gain enough points to challenge for a play-off spot.
More Purposeful Possession
Controlling possession and building the play is also an area Mousinho wants to develop. Following a 1-0 pre-season loss against League Two AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday, the head coach criticised his side’s lack of quality passing.
In his post-match quotes to Portsmouth FC, Mousinho said: “We were a bit sloppy in possession and gave the ball away a few too many times, so there’s plenty to work on.”
Last season, Pompey was one of the leaders in League One possession. The club had the fifth-highest average possession across 46 matches, with 54.4%.
Yet, when contrasted with the goal returns from open play, turning controlling performances into more clinical ones is essential. As a result, Mousinho could shift to a more direct approach in the 2022/23 season. Or he may have to consider flexible tactical approaches to see out leading positions, especially after Portsmouth drew eight matches from winning positions.
Experienced Signings at Portsmouth
Generally, Portsmouth’s core squad is an ideal foundation to build on. Last season’s top scorer Colby Bishop proved his ability to perform in League One. He struck 20 goals in 46 league appearances in 2022/23.
In addition, defensive experience from centre-back Sean Raggett, left-back Connor Ogilvie and central midfielders Marlon Pack and Joe Morrell gives Mousinho a solid spine and possession control in the deeper areas.
To compliment the already experienced squad from the 2022/23 season, Mousinho and club Sporting Director Rich Hughes have committed to a transfer policy of getting the “sweet spot” between youth and experience, with no particular focus on sell on value.
This more fluid transfer policy has seen an influx of established English Football League (EFL) players at Fratton Park.
Mousinho and Hughes have also targeted experienced attacking players to plug those attacking shortcomings. Wingers Gavin Whyte, Anthony Scully and striker Christian Saydee come with huge EFL experience and can offer alternative approaches from the patient build-up play. Between them, the trio have 231 League One appearances, 47 goals and 32 assists.
In addition, such players give Mousinho further options to relieve the goalscoring pressure from Bishop.
Verdict: Effectiveness the Key at Portsmouth
In 2023/24, Pompey fans are unlikely to see huge changes in footballing approach. However, how well Portsmouth head coach Mousinho can implement effective use of possession, generate better goalscoring returns and get the best out of his exciting new signings will be key.
Previously, the initial promise came during the Cowley era, but this eventually crumbled into mediocrity. Mousinho is likely to be unflinching in his attacking approach. Yet, coaching this strategy well and getting the players to buy into the tactics will be the difference between a genuine promotion push and another labouring mid-table campaign.