(Photo: Action Images)
By Luke Baker
MOST people have expected Portsmouth to clamber out of League Two over the last few years – but now it really could be about to happen.
As Pompey make their strongest bid yet for promotion, defender Christian Burgess is confident they will finally achieve their goal.
Back-to-back mid-table finishes in 2013-14 and 2014-15 were a huge disappointment, but, after reaching the play-offs last season, a different kind of heartbreak awaited Pompey when Peter Hartley’s 91st-minute goal sent them crashing out to Plymouth in the semi-finals.
Burgess doesn’t hide the fact it hurt badly, but the south coast side have used the pain as a springboard for a concerted automatic promotion charge, launching themselves into the top three with a midweek win at Crawley.
And the 25-year-old centre-back is ready for the club to finally end their hoodoo.
“We definitely think this is the year we can get promoted,” said Burgess. “But then we thought that last year as well, so it’s not a given by any means.
“How I feel it a little bit more this year is that we’re ready to go up and it’s in our hands now.
“There’s still plenty of football to be played, but it’s about achieving automatic promotion because the play-offs are a bit of a 50-50 and can be very cruel.
“Last year we lost in the second leg in the last minute, and it’s tough to take when you’re only one game away from earning what you think you deserve.
“But now we’re pretty confident. There is a good feeling among the group.”
Burgess and his fellow defenders are the key reason why Portsmouth are looking so strong.
No team in the division had conceded fewer than the 31 goals they had let in ahead of last Saturday’s clash with Colchester. There’s an impressive 15 clean sheets thrown into the mix, too.
“I’m really proud of our defensive record,” added the former Hartlepool and Peterborough man. “The boys put in a real shift – it’s not just the back four and the keeper, it’s the two holding midfielders and the wingers getting back as well.
“We’ve kept a lot of clean sheets this season and it’s always nice, as a centre-back, to have the stats to back you up.
“We’re confident we can do the business there. It’s all about being clinical at the other end now. We’re creating chances, so there’s a real good feeling that we can pick up a few wins on the bounce.”
As well as a series of consistently impressive performances at the heart of Portsmouth’s defence, Burgess also drew attention for another reason earlier this year.
When Pompey’s clash with Crawley was postponed due to a frozen pitch in January, Burgess sent a tweet saying he didn’t know what to do with himself.
Skill Soccer Youth under-12s manager Will Chitty cheekily responded, inviting the 6ft 5in powerhouse to help with a training session at Bransbury Park and Burgess duly obliged.
“It drew a crazy amount of attention, but I suppose that’s social media these days.
“Things can go viral really easily,” said Burgess.
“I suppose people don’t always see it, but that sort of thing does go on behind the scenes. Plenty of players happily give up their time.
“Clubs do a lot in the community and Portsmouth are really good for that. As players, if we can help out in the city and give a little bit back, then we’ll jump at the chance.”
*This article originally featured in The FLP’s 12 March 2017 edition.