BT Sport commentator and life-long Pompey fan Ian Darke looks ahead to the new season.
Perhaps I’ve been a Pompey fan too long, but please do not expect wild wave-of-optimism forecasts for the upcoming season.
There is no doubt Paul Cook has assembled a squad capable of ending the years in the football Siberia that is League 2. But that was also true last season. Pompey should have gone up but they did not. They controlled the vast majority of games yet could not convert that dominance into enough points.
The manager will have spent sleepless nights wondering why. Too many home draws were the root of the problem, with costly stoppage time goals by opponents (it happened too often to be bad luck) another major factor.
I think the ankle injury which blunted the effectiveness of key creator Gary Roberts for much of the campaign was crucial too. If he can return to his best form, it will give Pompey so much more punch.
Of the new signings, Carl Baker is proven class at a higher level than this and might make a big difference. I simply have not seen enough of Milan Lalkovic or Curtis Main to form a valid opinion yet. But both seem useful options.
Michael Smith is a classy enough leader of the line, but needs to produce a 15-20 goal campaign. Young Conor Chaplin does have that predator quality, but is still learning his craft. I like the electricity he brings to the attack but has to turn that on consistently to force his way in.
Danny Rose is a good tenacious experienced option in central midfield alongside the dependable Michael Doyle. Close and May are two good youngsters in that department and could kick on this year.
Pompey’s defensive record was statistically very good last year and should be again, with Jack Whatmough now fit and like a new signing. Jack will want to perform so well that he simply can’t be dropped once Matt Clarke is fit.
I’ve seen a fair bit of the new keeper Forde from Millwall. He’s been in the Irish squad regularly, and is hugely experienced. The cynic in me asks why Millwall don’t want him anymore, but he will want to prove them wrong. Let’s hope he does because goalkeeper was a problem position for Pompey last season, culminating in the play off fiasco of having no fit keeper. That was terrible luck and very, very costly over the two legs against Plymouth.
Modern football is less about possession and more about the speed with which attacks can be developed once you get that ball – and that’s an area in which Paul Cook will know Pompey have to improve. They just needed too many touches and passes at Fratton last season, giving rivals too much time to funnel back and reorganise. Occasionally too, the use of two holding midfield men looked a tad cautious at home, where 4-1-3-2 might have caused opponents bigger problems.
Having said all that, I’m a huge fan of what Paul Cook has brought to Pompey. He’s a great football man who will sweat blood to give the fans what they crave. He has produced a team very well worth watching. Fingers crossed he will deliver the promotion dream this time round.
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