The dozen awaiting their fate as Pompey focus on promotion

Pompey skipper Michael Doyle
Pompey skipper Michael Doyle
Kal Naismith Picture: Joe Pepler

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Time ticks down, hopefully on Pompey’s League Two participation, certainly on players’ Fratton Park presence.

Paul Cook has four months and 15 days remaining to earn promotion from the Football League’s bottom division.

Enda Stevens

Enda Stevens

Should the Blues purposely avoid the play-offs, that day of destiny will glide forward to Saturday, May 6.

And for those 12 Pompey players whose contracts expire this summer, the future is as uncertain as the club’s destination.

According to chief executive Mark Catlin, negotiations are not currently taking place on extending the deals of any of the 28-man first-team squad.

With the club’s focus fixed on ending what has developed into a demoralising four-year spell in League Two, such distractions are not permitted.

Gareth Evans, left

Gareth Evans, left

For the likes of regular first-team contributors Enda Stevens, Kyle Bennett, Gareth Evans and Michael Doyle, patience is required, their fate remains undetermined.

After all, the Blues’ priority centres on success in the short term – namely the month of May.

Catlin said: ‘Each player will be treated on a case-by-case basis under the guidance of the manager.

‘At present, the focus of everyone associated with the football club has to be on the remainder of this season.

‘There are no talks with our existing players at the moment, we haven’t started any negotiations with any player.

‘We still have a job to do this season and that is where people’s focus should remain.

‘Considering we do not know which division this football club will be competing in next season, it is difficult to budget ahead.

‘However, we have a huge chunk of our players already contracted for next season, so it’s not like we have a raft of players whose deals are set to run out.

‘There is always the concern we may lose someone when their deal expires, but you have to weigh up the pros and cons.

‘If there is a player we want to keep and there is interest from another club and they are unsettled then we will look at it – provided Paul Cook wants to keep them.

‘But it will be a case-by-case basis and at present no such talks are taking place.’

Crucially, Conor Chaplin’s future was resolved in October, following the agreement of a new three-year deal.

Only Matt Clarke is contracted to Pompey for as long, with the pair tied up until the summer of 2019.

Chaplin, of course, continues to be monitored by other clubs and is the subject of persistent rumours linking him with a move away from Fratton Park.

No contract length will prevent any potential departure, although the Blues continue to stress the striker is not for sale and remains the future.

In contrast, there has been little urgency to ensure other highly-regarded members of Cook’s squad are retained.

Although, the brutal truth is such assets are not as bankable as Chaplin or Clarke in terms of potential and age, reducing the necessity for a swift contract resolution.

It means Stevens, Bennett, Evans, Doyle, Ben Close, Brandon Haunstrup, Calvin Davies, Jack Whatmough, Adam Buxton, Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain, Liam O’Brien and David Forde must wait.

Not including Amine Linganzi, whose short-term deal expires later this month.

Inevitably, some of those 12 will depart. Forde must return to parent club Millwall at the end of his season-long loan, while natural wastage will claim others.

Yet Pompey’s undeterminable fate is the biggest barrier to planning beyond this campaign, both in terms of management and players.

The stage on which the club plays its football next season will ultimately determine the level of finances.

In reality, Stevens and Evans should be absolute certainties for the tabling of new deals.

Stevens is surely one of the best left-backs in League Two and a performer also capable of excelling should the Blues take the step up.

Irrespective of his role in the side, Evans is a dependable, hard-working presence with plenty of lower league experience and, let’s not forget, offers quality in attacking situations.

Then there’s Bennett, hampered by bouts of inconsistency but retaining the prized ability to create, while well-regarded by opposition players and managers.

The fact Ipswich Town came close to signing him in the previous transfer window drops a heavy hint there may also be a resale value.

As for Doyle, the skipper and midfield lynchpin, he turns 36 in August and it is sadly inevitable that, at some point, age will dictate his footballing deterioration.

Of the others, Close and Haunstrup are local lads who Cook often refers to in glowing terms. Like Whatmough, however, their progress continues to be frustratingly strangled by a lack of first-team appearances.

The rusting trio may themselves ask whether they want to stay at Fratton Park beyond this summer if offered the opportunity.

In the meantime, Pompey are entirely relaxed on the absence of talks over fresh terms with players.

No doubt they will offer the fact footballers cannot actually sign for another club until July 1 – upon the expiry of contracts – as a reason.

Certainly, it leaves plenty of time, even after the season’s end, to initiate discussions with those they wish to keep at the club.

And while the Blues have yet to plan for next season, others in Leagues one and two are in entirely the same situation.

Many, of course, would struggle to offer the prestige or wages to successfully tempt a Fratton Park departure.

Pompey have waited long enough to leave League Two. What’s a few more months for everyone concerned?