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Risk vs Reward

Fratton Park

John Mousinho took on one of the toughest decisions a manager at the top end of a table has to make at a pivotal point of the season.

With the blues top of the league and starting to hit their stride again, the gaffer had to consider the physical load of some on his best performers.

Ahead of the game Mousinho made it clear that he had a plan to allow some of the lads an easier night watching the action from the bench.

The very fact that we are able to rest and rotate players, despite the injury list the team have had to contend with this season, really showcases the excellent recruitment strategy carried out in January.

It is a fine balancing act of risk versus reward, you don’t want to unsettle the balance and continuity of the side, yet there is the obligation to ‘play the long game’ and look after your key players. 

But above all else, winning is first and foremost in the managers mind. 

Running through the team selection, personally I was pleased to see the back four remain the same. 

There could be a case to have rested Connor Ogilvie at left back, bringing in Jack Sparkes, with the former having recently returned from injury. But since Ogilvie’s return he has been instrumental in improved defensive displays, including a clean sheet away at Carlisle a few days previous.

Disruption to a defensive unit that has been performing well is generally avoided, so it was pleasing to see that foursome remain in the starting eleven.

Pompey found themselves in difficult moments on Tuesday evening, but the trio of Shaughnessy, Raggett & Pack were outstanding. 

Pack orchestrated the midfield throughout, with the centre back paring solid against a top striker in Lyle Taylor. In the second half, it was clear there was an instruction for Raggett & Shaughnessy to be braver in possesion, striding out of the back line to inject tempo into Pompey’s play. All three delivered top performances at the heart of this victory.

As the saying goes, offense wins games- defences wins championships. So having that foundation is crucial, even more so as Pompey have players in the top end of the pitch now that can produce special moments to change the direction of any game. 

Moving onto midfield selection, I think we all expected to see Tom Lowery given an opportunity to recover on Tuesday night.

With Moxon having had a couple of appearances from the bench since his arrival, it seemed the opportune time to get him in the mix, at home against lower league opposition. 

Circumstances have forced Lowery into playing more minutes than perhaps everyone would have wanted in the last 4 games. The boss has had to contend with Pack’s illness at Port Vale, which saw Lowery thrown in for a full 90, followed by the injury to Joe Morrell shortly after at Oxford. 

This has meant approximately 320 minutes of time on the pitch out of the 360 minutes,  excluding added time in our last 4 games.

With Moxon now having had the time to bed himself into is new surroundings, it seemed inevitable that Lowery would sit this one out. JM would have weighed up the risk vs reward, with ultimately the risk proving to outweigh the reward by some margin with what transpired.

On a personal level, you have to feel for Lowery. Such a talent that adds so much to The Blues. Tenacious and technically gifted, on his day he is a wonderful player to watch. We can only hope it is a twinge and not a long term injury, as options in that area of the field are few and far between. Given his injury history, it’s only natural to fear the worst, but we live in hope.

JM would have been wanting the ground to swallow him up the moment Lowery clasped at his hamstring. 

I admire Mousinho’s post-game honesty in taking responsibility for the blow. I also believe plaudits should come his way for his bravery in selection and tactics in this recent run of form, but equally that bravery in section backfired on this occasion.

Owen Moxon has moved from cover to guaranteed starter in just a couple of weeks. We have no reason to doubt the Hughes recruitment blueprint, but I doubt he would have anticipated the huge role Moxon will have to play so early into his Fratton Park career.

Again, we saw the courage of JM to make big decisions with the inclusion of Miles Peart-Harris from the start. There were a few raised eyebrows round the ground when the 11 was announced. The expectation was for Kamara to come in for MPH, based on Saturdays performance in Cumbria. 

You could also argue that Peart-Harris could easily have been withdrawn at half time, as he failed to find his best in that first 45. But the manager has shown confidence in the young loanee to deliver & with him getting the second goal it completely vindicated the gaffers decision. The persistence of the manager to back him plus the strike at such a key moment, should do wonders for MPH’s self-esteem.

What a position to be in when making changes, being able to make a double sub when leading 3-1 with Bishop & Lang, just shows the depth we have in the top end of the pitch. 

There is the quality, talent and class to trouble any defence in League One. You only need to look at two pieces of magic from Kamara in the space of 4 days to show that. 

With The Blues churning out victories and another game at PO4 just around the corner, the further injury blow has done little to dampen the spirits of the Fratton faithful.

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