With Wembley now becoming a distant memory and Accrington ousted, we gathered some of our regular writers to see what their thoughts are for our post-final games and push for promotion.
The last two performances against Tranmere and Accrington haven’t been as sparkling as the Pompey match, but we appear to have learnt how to win ugly, what's your thoughts?
"They say that the good teams learn to win when they’re not playing well, and that they naturally find a way to win. While we’ve certainly not been at our sparkling best in the last couple of matches, we’ve protected our keeper superbly well, and dug out goals when the opposition were probably thinking that we weren’t going to find them. Organisation has been the key to this, especially at the back, with players dropping in and doing the job they’ve been told they have to do when they’re in a particular place on the pitch. As for winning ugly, there are a few teams in this league who don’t know how to win any other way, and they’re gradually getting found out. Having the ability to win ugly and win prettily is very handy, and that’s down to the manager having a plan and the players buying into that plan."
"I think that there are circumstances around both results that mean that we have to take the performance levels with a pinch of salt. With seemingly every single centre half we have not being available after Flanagan got injured, I think that grinding out the win at Wembley, given the past run of defeats there, as well as Tranmere putting in a gritty, battling display, is fair enough really. In terms of Accrington, the pitch was awful (and tiny), they’d had an extra days preparation and the referee missed their centre backs thinking that they were in 'hell in a cell' with Charlie Wyke. Again, when you look at the context of the match, you have to say that winning by any means necessary is fair enough. You could also make the argument that the last two performances haven’t been that poor, given the control we had on both games after scoring the first. A bigger, better pitch on Saturday against a team who are out of form and have to come and win will suit us more, and should at least see us create more chances."
"I think first of all, the signs of a good team are to be able to win games when you don't play well, that's exactly what we've learned how to do and what we've been lacking for some years now. Lee Johnson has got us playing some really good football, don't get me wrong and it is noticeable, but players get tired and games are coming thick and fast so obviously we aren't always going to be at the top of our game, the important thing is though, that we win those games when we aren't on top form. The pitches in this league are pretty poor so sometimes we cannot play to our full potential so that is a factor too, but overall I think the gaffer has instilled a winning mentality at the club and players are hungry to win and at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the three points!"
Thoughts on Ross Stewart’s debut performance against Accrington?
"We’ve waited what seems like an age for Ross Stewart to actually get his boots on, but on the evidence of the Accrington game, it’s been worth the wait. It might only have been 45 minutes, but the lad (apart from being taller than I’d imagined) managed to score a good goal, defend a couple of corners, and generally chase the opposition all over the place. Probably the last thing the Accrington defence wanted after Charlie had been bumping into them for the first half was another big forward, but Ross put himself about and was a general nuisance. The option that he provides, of two proper forwards, is something new for us this season, and something that other teams will now have to worry about. Whether he can continue this form beyond the natural enthusiasm than come with a debut remains to be seen, but as far as debuts go, it was very promising and showed that (Heaven forbid) if anything untoward were to happen to Wyke, we have a suitable replacement as well as a partner."
"He had two good looping headers (one of which obviously resulting in the first goal) but was a bit quite otherwise. He looked more mobile that Wyke whilst still offering an aerial threat, which could really come in handy when we are perhaps chasing a game in the future. As well as this, it was the best possible start from his perspective, and at least means that he won’t have the monkey on his back when playing for us in other games, in the way that other strikers have had for us historically (Graham, Altidore, Grigg)."
"He looked a typical League 1 striker and will very much be at home in this division by the looks of it! He's a classic centre forward who can bully big centre halves, point proven against Accrington when their defenders flocked around him and left Charlie Wyke for a free header. I think we've got plenty to look forward to from him and he seems like he could really be a nuisance to teams in this division and really help us ramp up the promotion push with more options up top. Plus he's only a young lad and has plenty going for him so we'll wait and see but first impressions are certainly positive."
With players coming back from injury thick and fast what would be your starting eleven if everyone was available?
"Picking a starting eleven once everybody is again available is a tricky one. They used to say that you shouldn’t change a winning team, but the modern game almost demands squad rotation. If Wright is fit, he’s got to be alongside Sanderson – but how can you leave O’Nien out of a defence that’s been so effective? It would also seem unfair to leave out the likes of Leadbitter, Scowen, Power, or Winchester from a central midfield where we have an embarrassment of riches by League One standards. OK, here goes…
O’Nien, Sanderson, Wright, Hume;
Power, Scowen, Gooch;
Jones, Wyke, McGeady
I think that with those three defenders, we can rely on Gooch to do a job wide on either side, while Hume edges it on the other side as the defensive side of his game was improving before injury struck – and he’s the fastest thing in the division. Those players would allow us to switch from three to four at the back as and when necessary. Power has been effective if, at times, uncomfortable, at right back, and plays a better game in midfield when he can sit at the base and allow Scowen to do the ratting about and carrying. If we’re to continue on the lone striker route, Wyke is impossible to omit, despite his form dropping off a bit in the last few games – probably due to the opposition doubling up on him, and the source of many of his goals, McGeady. Wyke is now in the habit of scoring goals to the extent that it’s now second nature, so we need to take advantage of that habit for as long as it lasts. Jones, in the short time he’s been with us, has shown that he too can find Big Chas in the right place, and is also not scared of trying something spectacular to back up his direct running at defenders – something they hate. I’d also say that my eleven is very much a starting eleven, and that I’d expect Johnson to continue making the sensible substitutions he’s been making of late. Now that we’ve seen Stewart, we know that we can effectively switch to two big buggers up top, and we’ve already seen what the pace of Diamond and the guile of Maguire can do in the later stages of a game. Thankfully, it’s Lee Johnson picking the real team and not me."
"I honestly would struggle to pick a formation and the players for a general starting eleven, given how flexible we seem to be at the moment, we are able to change our shape and personnel depending on who we are playing. With McFadzean not looking as terrible in recent games and Vokins having quite a good game last night, I would back virtually any starting eleven Johnson put out. I would also say that Johnson seems to have a general team and plan before every game, before assessing things at half time to exploit the oppositions weakness, which we saw last night with Stewart coming on for Diamond in the second half. I think there was a stat that Sky were showing on Sunday, saying that we had conceded the least amount of second half goals in the Football League system this season. Whilst Johnson has inherited a fairly good defence from Parkinson, we seemed to concede the first goal in the first half and be chasing an equaliser in the second half in a lot of Parky games, with the first game of the season against Bristol Rovers being the absolute prime example. Now we either seem to score early in the first half, or at least stop the opposition from taking the lead, which makes that stat about second half goals even more impressive."
"It's a tricky one that because we really do have an array of talent going forward and we're blessed with options, a stark contrast to earlier in the season. There's plenty of competition in every position so I certainly wouldn't like to be in Lee Johnson's shoes. Anyway, I would say the following is our best XI: Burge in goal, O'Nien, Sanderson, Bailey Wright and Hume across the back line, Power and Leadbitter in midfield; Gooch playing just off the striker with Jordan Jones on the right and McGeady on the left wing, then obviously big Charlie Wyke leading the line."