22 players and counting – the Pompey injury epidemic

Brett Pitman sports a bloodied nose after scoring against Fleetwood in September
Brett Pitman sports a bloodied nose after scoring against Fleetwood in September
Dion Donohue has been in excellent form for Pompey. Picture: Joe Pepler

Donohue triumphing after ‘tough’ start to Pompey life

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The subject matter of a Pompey injury crisis must surely prompt a knowing smile from Steve Claridge.

Such was the affliction during a 137-day tenure as manager, 16 members of his first-team squad were sidelined through various ailments at different stages.

Danny Rose broke his leg against Northampton in December

Danny Rose broke his leg against Northampton in December

As a consequence, it was mooted that a third-round FA Cup visit of Tranmere in January 2001 should be scrapped, with the Blues unable to field a side.

An injury pile-up and flu epidemic reduced the squad to a mere six fit outfield players 24 hours before kick-off.

Still, handing keeper Chris Tardif his debut, Claridge’s men fulfilled the home fixture – only to be eliminated 2-1, despite Lee Bradbury’s opener.

By that stage Andy Awford had retired through injury, while Lee Mills featured just once under Claridge’s reign, after recruited for a record fee by predecessor Tony Pulis.

Not that the manager found too much sympathy over his injury-ravaged predicament in Fratton Park’s boardroom. Milan Mandaric brandished an axe still dripping with Pulis’ blood five weeks later.

Of course, Harry Redknapp introduced ‘bare bones’ into footballing vernacular during two spells at the helm, while Michael Appleton and Guy Whittingham’s options were impeded by a general absence of registered players.

Yet their player-shortage plights cannot compare to Claridge’s – until now.

Kenny Jackett, a manager loath to dwell on sob stories nor declare outrageous misfortune, has witnessed a play-off-challenging squad cruelly brought to its knees.

Earlier this week, he confessed it was the worst injury crisis of a managerial career totalling in excess of 700 matches.

Granted, an underwhelming transfer window and the inability to find a suitable Danny Rose deputy have also been pivotal in the subsequent demise of this campaign’s aspirations.

However, injuries have been the underlying reason behind a wretched return of eight points in 2018.

Of the regulars to have started for Jackett’s first team, only Luke McGee, Jamal Lowe and the departed Kyle Bennett have been unscathed.

In fairness, loan signings Connor Ronan, Anton Walkes and Sylvain Deslandes have also been clear, although he only arrived in January.

Meanwhile, number two Alex Bass has barely left the bench.

It leaves a staggering 22 Pompey players who have so far missed at least one match this season through injury.

Move over Claridge, you have been surpassed.

In terms of loanees, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis (damaged knee ligaments) lasted 39 minutes, while Damien McCrory (knee surgery) dragged it out for three games.

Stephen Henderson injured his thigh on his debut and is out for the season, while Stuart O’Keefe (groin) has been sidelined since December.

Meanwhile, Matty Kennedy was recently kept out against Southend with an ankle issue.

For those no longer at Fratton Park, Milan Lalkovic was dogged by Achilles complaints after wearing boots too small, while the injury-plagued Curtis Main was kept out for five matches from October with a hamstring issue.

Drew Talbot was sidelined by a hamstring for two games and then for four matches with a groin problem.

Now at Chesterfield, a hamstring issue has restricted him to four outings.

Of those still at Fratton Park, Rose is long-term with a broken left leg, while Jack Whatmough is now back from knee surgery in September.

Christian Burgess (calf) missed four matches from the end of September, Dion Donohue (lower back) three games from November and Ben Close (thigh) two fixtures from November.

Conor Chaplin has totalled four missed games with two hamstring injuries, while Adam May (ankle) was out for six matches, and Matt Clarke’s groin problem saw him absent from the opening six games.

Elsewhere, Gareth Evans’ problematic hamstring has ruled him out for seven matches over two periods, with Nathan Thompson missing the opening five games with a foot problem and later a head injury.

Jackett has been deprived of top-scorer Brett Pitman for a total of 10 fixtures following three periods on the sidelines. They consist of two hamstring tears, one nose operation and one knee operation.

Meanwhile, Kal Naismith has suffered a swollen knee (seven games) and a groin problem (one game), while Brandon Haunstrup (twisted knee and tendonitis) recently had an eight-match period on the sidelines.

Finally, a week last Friday, Oli Hawkins sustained a second hamstring problem since joining the club, while missed a game in September following a head injury at AFC Wimbledon.

‘It has been a high number, probably the most I have known,’ Jackett told The News.

‘They get well looked after here, it’s a very professional club. The overall facilities are very good, the support staff are extensive.

‘We go through it constantly as staff, making sure a programme is in place that can get the best out of the players, but you do need to challenge them to get bigger, faster, stronger all the time, that has to be the case.

‘Muscle injuries are a frustration, I get that they happen, you want to eradicate or minimize those.

‘After that, the rest have been contact injuries, tackles, knee injuries, twisting and turning. There’s not a lot you can do with those.

‘Injuries have hampered us, but there are also other things we need to improve on as well.

‘We see it clearly and you look at what you can affect and do better.’

Whatever the cause of this injury onslaught, it has severely undermined Jackett’s Pompey performance.