Pompey need to solve the Fratton riddle

Gary Roberts shows his frustration during a goalless draw with Yeovil last season. Picture: Joe Pepler
Gary Roberts shows his frustration during a goalless draw with Yeovil last season. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey have been told they need to crack the Fratton Park code to become title contenders.

Adam Barton has warned the Blues the key to success next season lies in being able to break down sides on home soil.

And Paul Cook’s men may have to once again sacrifice their footballing principles to open up their rivals.

One of the key reasons for Pompey failing to deliver promotion last season was their indifferent home form.

No team that finished in the top 10 of League Two picked up fewer wins.

Most sides who came to town in the league operated with little in the way of attacking ambition.

That led to a defensive wall being placed in front of Cook’s men – with the challenge to batter their way through.

Too often they came up short on that front with consternation building as a result from the home crowd.

Barton admitted both the players and Cook himself were caught by surprise at the limited desire of sides to come forward.

Quite simply, however, it needs to be remedied if they are to become the real deal next term.

Barton said: ‘A lot of players last season dropped down into League Two to play for this club.

‘We were coming down to get the club back up.

‘I don’t think we expected what happened, though, or the way teams would drop off us and sit.

‘We worked a lot on that during the season because I don’t think the gaffer expected that either.

‘I don’t think anyone expected 11 players in their own half.

‘It’s so hard to break down any side when they have 11 men behind the ball.

‘But we’ve worked on it a lot and it’s a good thing we now know what to expect.’

Barton explained the devil is in the detail when it comes to how to approach taking on sides who arrive at Fratton Park with a defensive outlook.

He feels there are a number of ways to prise open opponents and unlock the door when they don’t want to come forward.

Cook worked on that extensively towards the end of the campaign, as he changed up to a more direct approach.

Striker Michael Smith also played a key role as he offered a presence for deliveries from wide areas.

There were fewer passes and less emphasis on dominating possession as Pompey went with more robust play.

Barton said: ‘It’s about different phases of play instead of playing short balls all the time.

‘It’s about turning people around, getting crosses into the box and doing things that way.

‘Maybe we have to be more direct first, get the goal and earn the right to play that way.

‘There’s ways around it and we will work on that.’

Pompey are still building up fitness three games into their current pre-season schedule.

They go to Sutton United today ahead of a trip to Salisbury and games against Bournemouth, Bognor and Bristol City.

Cook has made it clear there has been little focus on team shape and tactics at this stage.

The plan is to go into the nuances of how he wants his team to play as they get closer to the League Two curtain-raiser against Carlisle at Fratton Park on Saturday, August 6.

Barton stressed any change in approach for Pompey doesn’t have to be wholesale.

He feels it’s about having adaptability in the ebb and flow of games.

And the 25-year-old believes the current crop of players have the intelligence to do that.

Barton said: ‘You can’t always play the exact same game.

‘Situations are different. So if that’s something we need to do for 20 minutes, we are capable of doing that and we have players who are capable of doing that.

‘So, I can see us working on it a lot this season.

‘I think we’ll get used to it, the new boys will get used to it and it will be good from the start.’