Portsmouth FC: The Sleeping Giant Finally Awaking

Today’s generation would never know about the status Portsmouth hold in the history of English football. From Harry Redknapp’s wheeling and dealing on the south coast to the classic big man little man duo of Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe, the Fratton Park stands have seen it all.


Now, the current generation will know Portsmouth as a team stuck in League One, following their meteoric drop from the first tier to the fourth, their promotion to League One has had them stuck there since the 2017/18 season. As it looked like the flicker of hope was dwindling, the Pompey faithful have seen a new man step into the light, as John Mousinho has turned the fortunes around for Pompey so far this season.


They returned from the international break with a 1-0 victory against Carlisle, with Conor Shaughnessy scoring a last-gasp 93rd-minute winner, breaking the hearts of the travelling fans and extending Portsmouth’s lead at the top. They would follow that up with a 0-0 draw at Cambridge United, and they climbed their way back from an early two-goal deficit and pulled off a 3-2 win at Reading, with Tino Anjorin, Colby Bishop and Terry Devlin getting on the score sheet.


Portsmouth managed to stretch their unbeaten league run to 26 games, dating back to March 11, and they remain atop League One. They sit three points above Oxford United, six above Bolton Wanderers, who have a game in hand, seven above Peterborough and eight above Barnsley, and they’ll be traveling to Chesterfield in the first round of the FA Cup before facing off against Leyton Orient in the Football League Trophy, followed by a league fixture against Charlton Athletic.


At this point last season, Portsmouth sat on 27 points, eight fewer than they have this season. Their unbeaten run in the league lasted until game week ten when they were bested 3-2 away at Ipswich by a side that ended up getting promoted. It was around this point in the season that their form slumped, taking two points from twelve at the end of September and the start of October. By game 11 last season, they had drawn four and lost two. This period was overseen by Danny Cowley rather than Mousinho, his Portsmouth side coming out of the blocks early and already showing different signs compared to the previous boss.


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After their thirteenth match of the 22/23 season, Portsmouth sat in third place. Their goal difference was a +10, with 26 scored and 16 conceded from 13. So far this season, they have scored four less (22) but also conceded eight, half of what the Pompey defence had shipped at this point in the previous campaign. As the famous Sir Alex Ferguson said, “Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles” and this is truly being embodied as they sit at the summit of League One. 


Portsmouth’s 13 league opponents this season have accumulated an 11.93 xG (expected goals) between them, with only eight goals being scored. Portsmouth sits +3.93 above their xGA (expected goals against) which again highlights their excellent defensive stability in the opening games of the season. Whilst this could be conceived as poor attacking from their opponents, six of the teams Pompey have faced so far sit in the top ten for goals scored with the Blues occupying one of the spaces for themselves. The 11.93 xGA also means on average they’re expected to ship less than a goal a game. 


When comparing the xGA from last season, the picture shown is completely different to this season. Their opponents in the first 13 games of the 22/23 season accumulated a 9.9 xG between them whilst scoring 16 goals. This makes for a -6.1 differential between the goals conceded and what they would be expected to concede, meaning their defence was leaking goals from positions which should not be an issue for them. The defensive problem was shown in a 3-0 away loss to Charlton, the hosts having a mere 1.30 xG. On average, Portsmouth was conceding 1.23 a game when they were only expected to concede 0.76.


Looking at the other end of the pitch, the Blues have accumulated an xG of 22.93 and are performing at -0.93 in the stat. The minus differential between the two stats shows that they may be missing some easier chances whilst converting chances that should not be scored. However, the difference being less than one shows they are still showing their ability to break teams down and get into scoring positions. This is embodied by their 4-0 away win at Leyton Orient in August, scoring the four goals from a 1.83 xG. 


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Rewinding the clock back to last season again, Portsmouth was outperforming the xG. 26 goals were scored from an xG of 17.53. A whopping differential of +8.47 shows the chances Portsmouth were getting weren’t as clear cut but were converting their chances regardless of difficulty. An average of two goals per game whilst only expecting to score 1.34 means Cowley’s team couldn’t break down teams as well and resorted to efforts with less chance of scoring.


Colby Bishop has scored nine for the Blues so far this season and assisted two. The number nine has an xG of 7.7 marginally outperforming what he is expected to do in front of goal. Bishop has been excellent for Pompey this season, scoring more than a third of their goals and being reliable up top, his highlight coming in the 1-1 draw away at Derby in which he scored a 95th-minute equaliser to save their unbeaten run. 


John Mousinho has brought excitement to the South Coast and allowed those in the Fratton End to dream after their start to the season. The exciting style of attacking football with the reliable balance of a solid defence has made them a cut above the rest of the teams that surround them. Fans will be hoping they can stay atop of the league and finally break free from the shackles of League One football.


By: Josh Wright / @joshwrightt12__

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / James Baylis – AMA / Getty Images