After the drama and excitement of the Championship play-off semi-finals it is the turn for the spotlight to go back on to Sky Bet League 1 on Thursday evening when Portsmouth look to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Sunderland at Fratton Park.
Sunderland know that if they avoid defeat on the south coast it will be them facing either Charlton Athletic or Doncaster Rovers at Wembley next weekend but lose and it could be the end of their season. The stakes are massive now.
Although they will be disappointed to have lost the first leg, Portsmouth should take a lot of heart from that encounter as they were the better side for much of it, but couldn’t really get into a threatening position to find the back of the net. We’ve seen already this week that the burden of carrying a lead can get to teams and Portsmouth will be hoping that is the case in this contest as well.
I think defensively Portsmouth are well covered but they will need to find a cutting edge up front. In fairness to them they have done that in the main in recent times. They have nothing to lose here now so if there were any shackles on them they can throw them off and give this one a real good go. That isn’t always the worst position to be in when matches mean as much as this one does.
Credit to Sunderland. In a tight first leg they delivered the one piece of magic in the contest to seize the initiative but they won’t need telling that the job is far from done. It would take a brave side to make the long journey to Portsmouth to sit on a lead and protect it so I would expect Sunderland to adopt something of a positive approach albeit without being terribly reckless at the same time.
Sunderland have been ridiculed in places for the amount of matches they have drawn this season but they would snap your hand off for another one here. If they are to get that you would think they are going to have to find the back of the net as they don’t look equipped defensively to withstand an onslaught which has to be coming their way at some point in the piece.
Lee Brown and Brett Pitman both missed the first leg through injury but Portsmouth are hoping to have both available for this second leg. Oliver Hawkins looks an obvious candidate to make way for Pitman if he is fit.
Sunderland will be about to call on the services of centre-back Alim Ozturk after his red card in the first leg was overturned. Aiden McGeady was injured in the warm-up on Saturday night and is rated doubtful here. Match-winner Chris Maguire is pushing for a start.
What a second leg we have set up here! We saw at Wembley that there isn’t a huge amount between these two sides and they have drawn since then and would have drawn the first leg here but for the width of the crossbar. Something has to give in this one though. I don’t think it can be a tight match given that Portsmouth have to win.
I’ve always thought this season that if you get after this Sunderland defence you can expose it. I was at the Stadium of Light back in January when Luton exposed it at will but ran into a goalkeeper on another level. That is the danger for Portsmouth here but if they can find a way beyond McLaughlin then I think they will win this second leg. I think they’ll go on and qualify too but Portsmouth on the Asian lines will do me.
HALF LOSS – Back Portsmouth (-0.25AH) to beat Sunderland for a 4/10 stake at 1.88 with Bet365