Championship prize should focus minds on the pitch, says Jackett

PORTSMOUTH boss Kenny Jackett has insisted his side will be ready for the challenges that await them on the pitch and in the stands when they face Oxford United in the play-off semi-final.

Pompey go into Friday night’s first leg with an unbeaten home record in the league this season, but they will be without the assistance of the home crowd that makes Fratton Park such a daunting prospect for away sides.

The lack of atmosphere inside the ground is something Jackett has discussed with his squad, and he is confident the prize of a place in the Championship will help his players put the bizarre circumstances to the back of their minds.

“It’s going to be a different environment and we’ve spoken about that,” said Jackett, who is hoping to end Portsmouth’s appalling play-off record that reads: played six, won none.

“We know what’s coming – both home and away. The challenge is a big one, but we’re ready for it and are looking forward to it because there are many clubs that would like to be in our situation with a chance of getting into the Championship.

“We’ll need to play well – there’s no opportunity to have a few games to get ourselves up and running. You’ve got to be ready from the very first minute, but we’ve worked hard and there’s a good hunger among the group.

“Both sides will have had friendly matches to prepare, but it’s about what happens on the day and making sure we have the right attitude.”

Despite Pompey’s lack of success in the end of season play-offs, they have been installed as favourites by the bookies to claim the third promotion spot from League One.

The strength in depth of Jackett’s squad is seen as significant after the 16-week hiatus in the campaign due to the coronavirus pandemic, and how the club turned their season around after a start that saw them win just one of their first seven league games.

“We need to back each other and make sure that everyone sticks together – they’re really important things,” added Jackett, who will hope to improve on the 1-1 draw his side achieved against the Us in the league game in November.

“We had one or two knocks at the back end of last week and had to adjust training a little bit, but they’re okay now and that’s really good news for us.

“After all the time we had to prepare – and there was obviously good reason for that – the games come quickly. But there’s enough time between Friday and Monday and you can definitely recover in that period. Everyone just wants to get on with it now.”

Jackett has no injury concerns ahead of the game with his main selection issues being Ellis Harrison or John Marquis as the focal point of attack, and Ryan Williams or Marcus Harness on the right. Christian Burgess and Sean Raggett are expected to retain their successful central defensive pairing for the play-offs before Burgess heads to Belgium when the season ends.

Burgess will leave the club this month after being voted the Pompey player of the season by local newspaper, the News. He follows in the footsteps of his erstwhile central defensive partner Matt Clarke, who claimed the prize at the end of the previous two campaigns.

The 28-year-old, who has signed a three-year deal with Belgian side Royal Union Saint-Gilloise, received 69 per cent of the vote in a poll of the paper’s readers after his most impressive season for Portsmouth since moving to the south coast in 2015.