Cotts set to shuffle his pack

Pompey keeper Luke McGee endured a difficult afternoon at Ewood Park Picture: Joe Pepler

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Steve Cotterill has pledged to keep up the Pompey juggling act.

And the Blues boss will not recall Marlon Pack or Matt Ritchie to solve his midfield woes.

Cotterill's paper-thin squad has recently taken a further battering, with the contract wrangles involving Richard Hughes and Michael Brown restricting their availability.

Only one of them will feature in tomorrow's squad for the visit of struggling Scunthorpe.

That's because more than one more appearance for either of them will trigger new deals on wages the club cannot afford.

Meanwhile, Liam Lawrence will not face Leeds on December 28 through the terms of his emergency loan.

Cotterill, though, has no plans to send out an SOS to Pack and Ritchie.

Pack is impressing during a season-long loan at Cheltenham, while

Ritchie has caught the eye featuring in Swindon's midfield.

Cotterill, though, remains unconvinced the duo can come to the rescue and believes staying where they are is the best way to help them develop.

Instead, he has pledged to continue juggling his squad as they attempt to cope with the hectic Christmas schedule.

Cotterill said: 'I don't think we'll bring them (Pack and Ritchie) back. We might have to just shuffle the pack again here.

'At the end of the day, these two lads weren't going to get in the team in August for one reason or another. Unfortunately, in my opinion, they weren't going to be good enough to be in the starting line-up.

'I want to make sure it doesn't get reported as if I don't care about the lads because I wouldn't drive to Swindon and Cheltenham and back to watch them if I didn't care about them.

'But the bottom line is they are now at an age when they need to play football and, if they are not going to play here, they have to play elsewhere otherwise they will not have careers anywhere.

'It would be far better for those lads being sorted out during this transfer window or this season than going out of contract at the end of the campaign and being out there with 1,500 other free transfers. So if they get an opportunity of furthering their education and something can be done then we will do it.

'Probably more so with Matt Ritchie because Swindon are more hot on Matt and – from what I can gather – Matt wants to go there. So if that can be done, it has to be done. If I've made a decision in August or September they are not going to play in our team, why in November, December or January should I really change my mind having looked at them at lower levels as well?'

In the meantime, contract talks continue with Hughes and Brown.

They can play one more Pompey match each. However, after that a clause is triggered whereby they receive a one-year extension at Premier League wages.

It's an incredibly frustrating scenario for Cotterill, with Brown a first-team regular.

In turn, Hughes represents the ideal replacement.

Now the likelihood is neither will be allowed to feature for the Blues in the new year unless a contract compromise is reached.

Amid it all, Cotterill's first-team options have been decimated further – and he is powerless.

He added: 'Distracting is not necessarily the word – it's probably frustration because it's a situation I've inherited.

'Not a lot can be done about it.

'That's my problem I have with it. I obviously have relationships with those players now. You don't have the six months that we've had at this football club and not build up relationships with the lads.

'That's what I have with Michael and Richard, which makes the situation more difficult.

'They have got a game each left and that's all the leeway I've got with them.

'They can't be in the same squad together, which is what happened to Richard last week.'