How have Portsmouth been performing against the top teams in recent years?

Sometimes you watch a team regularly and pick up a few notions about them which a bit of research shows are actually rubbish.

Covering Portsmouth in recent years, my gut feeling is that they've struggled when coming up against the strongest teams in League One, but do the numbers actually back that up?

Well, sort of. Looking at Pompey's record against sides which finished in the top six, the home form stacks up well.

In the past two years at Fratton Park, they won five of 12 matches against the eventual top six, taking 20 points from 12 matches. Not bad espe cially when you consider League One was viewed as unusually strong in that period.

However, away from home is a different issue and not just for a couple of seasons but ever since the club returned to League One in 2017.

If you ignore the Covid season of 2020-21, when there were no fans in attendance and therefore a much reduced home advantage, Pompey have won just two away matches against sides who finished in the top six from 32 attempts. Both of those wins were 1-0 against the team which finished 6th.

In those 32 matches, Portsmouth have mustered just 12 points, with zero victories against anyone who finished in the top five. The key questions are why? And does it actually matter?

The Kenny Jackett years

As previously mentioned, in the past couple of years the top of League One has been stronger than ever.

Ipswich last season were potentially the best team to have played at the level for a very long time and even they were beaten to the title by Plymouth. The points needed to finish in the play-offs in the past two years have been higher than usual, so perhaps you could argue that winning away at the best teams has been harder than ever.

Pre-Covid, Portsmouth were managed by Kenny Jackett. His teams were built on a solid defence and being hard to beat. They were generally pretty consistent and capable of beating anyone at home, but perhaps the style of play and the way the team was constructed didn't suit playing the top sides away.

Jackett isn't warmly remembered by all supporters but let's not forget he twice came very close to promotion.

So does it matter that his sides couldn't beat the best opponents away? In 2018-19 Portsmouth obtained 88 points, falling agonisingly short of automatic promotion. There were plenty of "if only" moments with hindsight where the two extra points could have come from.

That season Pompey didn't lose to anyone in the bottom 10 and took an impressive 32 points from a possible 36 against the bottom six. Ultimately you get the same number of points for beating the bottom teams as the top sides.

Sending a message to the league and themselves

For all the good work Jackett did, he couldn't change one statistic: Portsmouth have still never won a game in the EFL play-offs. If you're struggling to beat the top six, promotion via the play-offs is going to be that much harder.

Sides who win promotion don't have to consistently beat those around them, but it puts a lot more pressure on those matches against lesser teams and even the most solid teams will slip up every now and again.

Winger Paddy Lane told me this week of the chance to lay down a marker to the rest of the division in the next few away games to some of the stronger-looking sides. That isn't just to send a message to the rest of the division, it would also indicate to the Portsmouth squad themselves just how good they might be and what can be achieved this season.

You can hear every Pompey match live on BBC Radio Solent with Andy Moon and former Blues striker and manager Guy Whittingham.

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