It’s all eyes on Derek Adams for the second leg of this ding-dong south coast battle. It suited Plymouth to play on the counter in the first leg at Fratton Park, a strategy that yielded the Pilgrims’ standard away-game return of two goals, but Paul Cook has now raised the pertinent question about how his counterpart approaches the return in front of a packed Home Park.
"Plymouth have got a big decision to make," says Cook. "Do they come on to us, or sit off? It’s not my call, I don’t manage them. But we’re going to play. We’re going to go off our front foot and we’re going to attack. Let’s get on with it. We have a great away record because we go away to win."
Ordinarily, it’s tempting to fancy a low-scoring encounter whenever two teams meet for a second time in four days having traded big punches first time around, and both managers have made reference to lessons they have learned. But you look at the two teams, their respective home and away records - and, in Plymouth’s case, their recent defensive record - and it’s hard to envisage either side keeping a clean sheet.
Adams is the shrewder game-by-game tactician, a man with a variety of systems in his locker. But the temptation to shut up shop and try to eke out a narrow victory has to be tempered with the potential anxiety among a 17,000-capacity crowd. Packing bodies behind the ball sends out the wrong message and could backfire in a way that leaves the former Ross County boss entirely culpable.
My suspicion is that Adams will be neither one thing nor the other. The approach will be measured rather than cavalier, with different instructions issued for different phases of the game. Portsmouth will throw the haymakers, Plymouth will try to box clever. Whatever the detail, it’s a coin-toss who prevails. I really can’t call it.
What I will say is, wherever there’s goals, there’s usually an outcome one way or the other, and I expect the tie to be settled without the need for extra time and penalties, although possibly with a late winner. With Portsmouth as visitors, and the way they go about their business on the road, this isn’t likely to peter out in the final 15 minutes as the enormity of what’s at stake takes hold.
With that in mind, let’s side with both teams and dutch the Plymouth 2-1 and Portsmouth 2-1 correct scores at 19/2 and 10/1 respectively. The ‘both teams to score’ bet has copped in all but one of Argyle’s home games against the top ten and all but one of Pompey’s away games against the top 14, but there’s more fun in these wagers than backing a 5/6 shot in the BTTS market.