Painful memories behind Blues’ strike-early policy

Pompey in training
Pompey in training
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Seventeen first team players. Five development squad members. Two triallists.

The drought of senior footballers that has afflicted the opening days of previous pre-seasons has passed.

In 2009 Paul Hart scratched around for players to put a session on, in 2010 Steve Cotterill had eight men to call on and last year Michael Appleton omitted his senior professionals from pre-season all together.

So to see Alan McLoughlin lead out a group of 24 on their warm-ups at St John’s College on Monday was to witness a squad in healthy shape.

And, to any questioning it, came the definitive riposte to Guy Whittingham’s summer transfer policy.

Pompey’s squad is already essentially in place for the new campaign.

That means, from day one, the Blues boss can set about moulding it into the cohesive unit it needs to be to bounce out of League Two at the first attempt.

Sure there’s going to be tweeking in the coming days and weeks.

The presence of Ryan Bird and Michael Bryan as new faces tells us that.

Bird has impressed on a previous stint with the first team – and been invited back for the coaching set-up to have a closer look at the non-league hot-shot.

It appears a contract is there to be earned for the player who scored 41 goals at Burnham last season.

If not him than perhaps another youthful attacking talent.

Then there is the ‘box-to-box midfielder’ Whittingham has made it clear he wants to bolster his options in the middle of the park.

Expect some movement on that front in the next seven days or so, as assistant Steve Allen continues to busy himself behind the scenes utilising his lower league contacts.

And what about Ricardo Rocha and the story that has been bubbling beneath the surface for most of the summer?

It’s the name supporters keep coming back to, as they hope to see the ongoing fans’ favourite remain next season.

It’s a sentiment held among the club’s hierarchy even if Whittingham is taking a relaxed approach to discussions.

A coffee between pals has been as far as the recent contact has gone but it’s fair to say there is a hope a suitable resolution will be found by August 3.

If not there will be back-up options. Sam Sodje remains a powerful alternative, who could even be more suited to physicality of English football’s basement than Rocha’s cultured approach.

Those players are the final brush strokes to Pompey’s building, while in years gone by full structural work has been needed.

That became increasingly frenzied under previous regimes. Steve Cotterill raging about former chief-executive David Lampitt as he went off the radar in 2010 comes to mind.

Michael Appleton took an all-together more phlegmatic approach when facing similar circumstances, even if embargoes and his own relationship with Lampitt tested that mentality.

A repeat of those scenarios has now been avoided.

The due diligence carried out early on in the year has reaped dividends, as the wheels were set in motion on deals with a view to completion after Pompey’s successful exit from administration.

The aim, of course, is to give the team the best possible chance of hitting the ground running in the new campaign.

Seven successive league defeats greeted the start of the 2009-10 season under Hart, seven league fixtures without a win under Cotterill in 10-11 and a single success from eight league games the return for Appleton last time out.

Those stats provide the most compelling support for Pompey’s strike-early policy in the new era.