Ian Darke looks ahead to the new season.
Pompey are shooting for successive promotions – and it is far from being “mission impossible”.
But it is hard to be too bold with a prediction until you have a barometer on the strength of League One. That can only come from seeing how things look after the first six games or so.
There are grounds for optimism. None of the teams who went up from League Two last year – Northampton, Oxford, Bristol Rovers and Wimbledon – struggled at the higher level. That tells you the gap is not that huge.
Plus Pompey have a new experienced boss in Kenny Jackett who knows the territory, having been promoted from this league with Millwall and Wolves. The board did well getting Jackett so soon after Paul Cook’s strange departure.
He was on very good money at Pompey – but wanted even more, and Wigan were prepared to pay it. Can’t help wondering if he might one day wake up regretting that decision. Who knows?
Mr Cook did the job he was brought in to do at Fratton Park, but for me never seemed entirely comfortable with the weight of expectations at Pompey.
The new signings look good. The trail went cold for Brett Pitman at Ipswich, but he looks a crafty striker whose movement and nous should bring him goals at this level.
Interesting Pitman was made captain even as he walked through the door. That sort of reinforces something I heard last year – that this group are a good bunch of lads but lack natural leaders, especially with the talismanic Michael Doyle gone.
The new keeper McGee did well at Peterborough and made a good impression in the friendly against Bournemouth.
And while Enda Stevens is a massive loss at left back, his replacement Holmes-Dennis from Huddersfield looks as good a signing as Pompey fans could realistically have expected.
But there are areas of concern – notably in central midfield. Carl Baker was a revelation alongside Danny Rose against Bournemouth , but does he have the grit and legs at his age to be the right man in that area in tough away games? Essentially, he’s an attacking midfielder.
It would be a surprise if Jackett was not looking for a grizzled pro who could play the tough guy holding midfielder to play alongside the impressive Danny Rose. Doyle’s feisty leadership might be missed.
The manager appears to see youngsters Ben Close and Adam May as no more than substitutes at this stage. Both lads have talent, but need to prove they are ready for a big step up.
Central defence is another talking point. The loss of Matt Clarke for the first month is a blow, and Tom Davies – unconvincing last season – seems to be just ahead of Jack Whatmough in the queue to replace him. The jury is out.
This is a huge year for Conor Chaplin, and the hope must be that becoming a regular starter with the clever Pitman alongside will bring 15-20 goals. The success or otherwise of that partnership will be crucial, and I still feel another striker signing would be ideal if only for better cover.
But Pompey have aces up their sleeve in Kal Naismith and Kyle Bennett, both of whom were sensational on the run to promotion. A repeat of that form will make Pompey hard to handle.
Off the pitch, we await with interest to see how Michael Eisner and Sons go about running Pompey. Obviously we wish them well and hope they see the club as a love affair, not just a business opportunity.
They have a fantastic and unique club, and need to treat it with the same loving care as the heroic PST and the fans did in leading Pompey from the shadows.
That includes sensible investment in the team from time to time. It can’t all be done by “growing the academy”, though that is a laudable venture.
Given a fair wind this season, another promotion is possible – though the realist in me would be happy just to see Pompey in the play-off argument.
My tip for the title would be Bradford, course specialists, well supported and unlucky to miss out last season.
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