Portsmouth News - Portsmouth Sportsmail

Defensive dilemma is a test for Cowley

- Will Rooney

Boss has been wanting selection options – now he has a major one as he decides who gets the nod at the heart of his back-line to face Stanley

DANNY COWLEY hasn’t exactly been awash with options since taking over the Pompey helm.

Since succeeding Kenny Jackett as boss in March, injuries and suspension­s have meant the head coach’s selection choices have been limited.

For the vast majority of his 11 games, Cowley’s starting XI has picked itself. There have been no quandaries, no restless nights trying to weigh up which player he should go with in pursuit of a play-off place.

However, heading into the most important game of the season today, Cowley finally had a major dilemma on his hands.

And, in truth, it’s probably a headache he could do without.

For the season-defining visit of Accrington, the Pompey chief has to decide on the centre-back pairing he deems best to deliver three points and book his side’s spot in the top six.

Jack Whatmough, Sean Raggett and Paul Downing are all fighting to feature from the outset.

There are cases to be made for all three – but one will be left disappoint­ed when the teamsheets are announced come 11am.

Before last weekend’s 3-1 win at AFC Wimbledon, the Blues were crying out for Whatmough’s return to the side.

Following his second red card of the season at MK Dons, which earned him a four-match suspension,

Pompey were brittle at the back in a lacklustre 3-1 defeat to relegated Swindon and then a rollercoas­ter 3-3 draw at Accrington.

The Stanley game was a particular concern as the hosts frequently cut Pompey apart, also hitting the woodwork three times.

In his post-match

interviews, Cowley stressed that Accy’s strikeforc­e, Dion Charles and Colby Bishop, ranked among the very best in the division.

They have plundered more than 30 goals between them this term – and need to be kept quiet today.

To nullify such a threat in a game where three points is the minimum requiremen­t surely means playing your best defender – and that involves restoring Whatmough to the team.

The Gosport star has left sections of fans frustrated that he’s been dismissed twice because of similar challenges, some now even branding him a liability.

But it’s easy to forget he was arguably player of the season before receiving his marching orders at MK.

Since the new boss arrived at PO4, there’s no-one who’s made a bigger impression on Cowley and he has admitted Whatmough is destined for the Championsh­ip in his career.

Conducting his media duties ahead of the Accrington game, the indication­s were from Cowley that Whatmough would come back into the

XI.

That would add up to a harsh decision on whoever is unfortunat­e to be dropped between Raggett or Downing after the pair helped yield a pivotal win at Wimbledon last weekend.

The old adage is ‘never change a winning formula’ – although that must happen to fit Whatmough back in.

Downing’s shock place in the line-up at Plough

Lane was his first league start since September

2019 – and what a comeback performanc­e he delivered.

Having been talked up plenty by Cowley, the former Blackburn man displayed plenty of the attributes supporters expected when he arrived in June 2019, with Cowley naming him man of the match.

In contrast, Raggett has been a key cog who’s started every League One match this season. Even a nasty eye injury couldn’t keep him sidelined.

The former Norwich man’s been his usual fearless self throughout and won over plenty of his detractors.

Yet Raggett has been culpable for a few goals – and had a shaky start at Wimbledon last weekend.

It’s understand­able that some supporters believe Downing should keep his place over Raggett.

The former fits more into Cowley’s ball-playing style.

On, the other hand, however, this is no time for experiment­s.

Whatmough and Downing have never played a single minute of action together, so to trial a new partnershi­p would be a risk.

For example, who shifts over to the left-hand side?

And how would that impact Lee Brown, who’d also have a new player alongside him?

Had this encounter been a month ago, the pairing of Whatmough and Downing is what we might well have seen.

However, Whatmough and Raggett have been Jackett and Cowley’s preferred duo when available.

They’ve been at the heart of the latest promotion bid, built a rapport and been part of some big wins against the likes of Sunderland and Peterborou­gh.

Cowley’s craved more selection conundrums given his limited resources he inherited when taking the job. Now he has one, he simply has to get his decision right.

 ??  ?? Paul Downing impressed last week at Wimbledon when handed his first league start since September 2019
Paul Downing impressed last week at Wimbledon when handed his first league start since September 2019
 ??  ?? Sean Raggett, in action here at Wimbledon, is a league ever-present
Sean Raggett, in action here at Wimbledon, is a league ever-present

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