Tuesday, April 23, 2024

John Mousinho interview: Portsmouth head coach on harnessing negative energy as promotion dreams draw ever closer -Dlight News

Portsmouth might be leading the way at the top of League One by five points, with just seven games of the season remaining, but John Mousinho is still exercising caution.

He is still only 14 months into his first managerial role, so that is perhaps to be expected. Promotions are not new to him – he achieved three in his playing career – but being the guiding light is.

That is not his primary concern. What is lingering in his mind, though, is the fact Sheffield Wednesday set a new record last season by racking up a mammoth total of 96 points… and did not go up automatically.

“Last year was the perfect example; you can have a target and you still might fall short,” he says. “We might hit the traditional target for going up and it might not be enough. It’s a bit dangerous.”

Mousinho’s side have sat atop the pile since mid-September, barring one week at the end of November.

He won his second Sky Bet League One Manager of the Month award after a brilliant February where they took 13 points from the 15 on offer, while the win over Burton on March 12 took them to 80 points for only the sixth time in their history.

That said, injuries have tried their level best to derail the push for a return to the Championship after 12 seasons away.

Summer signing Regan Poole was ruled out for the season with an ACL injury in November, while a similar fate befell young midfielder Alex Robertson – on loan from Man City – whose serious hamstring tear prevented him from playing any further part beyond New Year’s Day.

In January, they reinforced with a loan move for Brentford’s Myles Peart-Harris and permanent signings of Callum Lang, Owen Moxon, and Tom McIntyre.

Mousinho was named Sky Bet League One Manager of the Month for a second time in February

The latter had a nightmare debut; he earned a red card for a rash challenge on Northampton’s Mitch Pinnock – and managed to break his ankle in the process. You’ve guessed it – he’s out for the season.

To boot, Joe Morrell and Terry Devlin’s campaigns are over too, and the unfortunate Tom Lowery has been restricted to just eight appearances in blue.

“The main thing is to make sure we don’t feel too sorry for ourselves and recognise every club up and down the country is dealing with injuries,” Mousinho says, diplomatically.

“We do think our injury list at the moment is unique in terms of the size of it, the sheer severity of each injury and how important these players are to our side. We make sure we get on with it as there’s nothing we can do.

“Against Burton last week, we had 18 fit pros and we still have got plenty in the physio room. Quite a few are coming back now, but it’s something we’d had to deal with and make sure we don’t use it as an excuse.”

It has been testament to the recruitment undertaken by sporting director Rich Hughes and his team that, from the outside, it has never been immediately clear that such issues have been plaguing Pompey.

Last summer, they wanted to build a squad that had two options for every position on the pitch and, with the obstacles they have faced, it has become evident why.

They even have the second best defence in the Sky Bet EFL, which probably comes as no surprise given Mousinho, his assistant Jon Harley and first team development coach Zesh Rehman all carved out successful careers as defenders.

“The most important thing is to try and build success on keeping clean sheets,” adds Mousinho.

“We don’t want to be negative and we don’t think we’re a negative side or a backwards side, but we do take pride in trying to not concede goals.

“If you can work off the back of that, it does make things a lot easier if you’re not conceding and one goal wins it for you.

“We’ve had plenty of those narrow victories, plenty of 1-0s away, particularly recently. I think it’s a really good foundation to build anything on.”

The job is not done yet – and Mousinho is only too happy to continue to roll out the staple managerial cliché: “We’re taking it one game at a time”.

In this case, it is probably fair enough to say that. Kusini Yengi’s third goal in two games saw them sink promotion rivals Peterborough last time out, but they still have to face Barnsley, Derby and Bolton.

Expect it to be rolled out again.

“One of the interesting things throughout the season is that we’ve never had an easy game. With some of those 1-0 victories I alluded to there, we beat Fleetwood away, Carlisle away, Port Vale away; we came away with narrow victories, but found those sides really difficult to play against. They are good sides, regardless of their league position.

“We take every game very seriously and, honestly, when I look at the pre-match analysis, I never think ‘Oh, this is going to be an easy afternoon for us!’. They are all tough in different ways. We just go into those games relishing it.

“It’s really enjoyable to come up against those types of teams and to try and get on top in those situations. We have to play every team twice and these games have come at an interesting time because of the state of the season and I think that’s really exciting.”

There has rarely been a spare seat at Fratton Park in recent months. The fans who have piled in have seen Pompey win all five of their last home games to maintain their lead at the top, albeit in sometimes nervy circumstances.

There is excitement in the air on the south coast, but more so a feeling of anxiety. They are so nearly at the finish line, but this fanbase has been burned before.

The last team to be top of League One at Christmas and not win promotion? Portsmouth, in both 2018 and 2020.

A minor slip-up in the last month could be the difference between a title win, a second-place finish or what would now be the nightmare scenario of finishing in the play-off places.

Mousinho, though, welcomes that feeling.

“It’s natural to feel nervous about the position – but I don’t think it’s a terrible thing at all.

“Through my playing career and now as a head coach, I do get nervous going into games. You can harness that energy brilliantly, especially when you are playing at home.

“I’m sure some of the tight finishes have left some on the edge of their seats, doing a bit of nail-biting, but that can manifest itself in a really good atmosphere.

“Some of the support we’ve had in the home games recently, even though the performances haven’t been sparkling, has been amazing.

“Then, away from home, every time I come out of the tunnel, I’m just amazed by the amount of Portsmouth fans that travel, the amount of noise they make and the difference they make. They’ve got a huge part to play for the rest of the season.”

Four of Portsmouth’s final seven games are on home soil and, if they can keep up their momentum, they might just have promotion wrapped up before the final day trip to Lincoln on April 27.

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