A new central midfielder – Pompey’s play-offs could rely on it

Pompey boss Kenny Jackett Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey boss Kenny Jackett Picture: Joe Pepler
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In his own inimitable manner, the ever-gregarious Iain McInnes has been known to unfurl the story behind Plymouth.

November 2014 was pre-Dockyard Derby branding, certainly lacking the often intense supporter rivalry later generated by two managers’ mutual dislike for one another.

Danny Rose's season looks over after he broke his leg against Northampton Picture: Joe Pepler

Danny Rose's season looks over after he broke his leg against Northampton Picture: Joe Pepler

Nonetheless, the League Two encounter was selected for a noon television broadcast.

Within 30 minutes, the match had been decided 3-0 in the Pilgrims’ favour, such was the abject nature of Pompey’s wretched camera-captured performance.

In the build-up, upon learning the Blues’ line-up, an aghast McInnes confronted boss Andy Awford and his coaching staff.

The chairman was alarmed at the introduction of a 4-1-4-1 system, with defender Jack Whatmough and Football League debutant Nick Awford occupying the centre of midfield.

The uncomfortable pre-match inquest which unfolded is perhaps best relayed by McInnes in the carefree environment of a hotel bar.

Nonetheless, fears over Awford’s selection of the teenage duo were extremely well founded.

In fairness, with James Dunne suspended and John Ertl unavailable for personal reasons, options had been devastated, prompting an alternative gameplan which bombed.

A glaring example of the importance of possessing midfielders equipped with the appropriate age and experience to aid any manager striving to produce positive results.

Raw talent and enthusiasm alone cannot be relied upon to serve at the heartbeat of an ambitious side, irrespective of the level.

Taking that cautionary tale into account, it is essential Kenny Jackett recruits a seasoned central midfielder during the remaining five days of the January transfer window.

Pompey have aspirations of reaching the League One play-offs, certainly not an unrealistic sight to gaze at longingly from the present position of ninth.

The gap stands at four points – precisely the same amount the Blues stand clear of 10th-placed Oxford United.

Assistance is required, particularly for a central midfield robbed of Danny Rose and Stuart O’Keefe until mid-April at the very least.

Even then, such an outlook on leg-break victim Rose is wildly optimistic.

By chief executive Mark Catlin’s own admission, the club are exceeding expectations upon their return to League One following a four-year absence.

A heartening scenario for a fanbase eager to return to more familiar surroundings of the Championship following that highly-publicised plummet down the Football League.

Yet in order to have an opportunity to fulfil the potential currently handed to them, the transfer window priority must rest with recruiting an experienced central-midfield battler.

Tellingly, Jackett touched upon his misgivings behind present options during last Monday’s traditional gathering with the local media.

‘If Adam May was coming in, maybe it should be with Rose or O’Keefe and Evans around him for combinations – our midfield can look very young, very quickly,’ he told The News.

Forget fresh-faced youngsters blessed with rich promise available to borrow from further up the pyramid, Pompey require brawn and maturity injected into their midfield.

Jackett knows, it’s a path he’s exploring, no question, with Derby’s Jamie Hanson the newest link.

Aged 22 and armed with 47 career games at Championship level, the player nicknamed ‘Bruiser’ snugly fits the bill.

Enticingly, he is also out of contract this summer.

The only drawback is whether Hanson is experienced enough to operate alongside Ben Close.

Few could possibly begrudge the Blues academy graduate his cemented spot as he continues to revel in a breakthrough season which prompted establishment as a regular.

This time last year he was closing in on a loan home at Eastleigh – a spell of precious footballing opportunity which would reap a debut in a 1-1 draw at Guiseley.

Yet, aged 21, he requires an older head alongside him in Pompey’s two holding roles during the final 18 matches of the campaign.

Irrespective of May’s encouraging potential and ever-expanding height, that is an attribute he presently lacks, impacting upon his own desire for a regular starting XI presence.

Close and May, so often midfield partners in the reserves, have accompanied each other just twice so far this season. For good reason.

Then there’s Dion Donohue and Nathan Thompson.

The centre of midfield remains Donohue’s preferred positional choice, despite the versatility which has largely seen him operate at left-back for the Blues.

Of the Welshman’s 20 appearances for the club, only two of his starts have come in midfield – the most recent coming last weekend at Rotherham.

As for Thompson, he was granted a surprise turn as a midfielder within a 3-4-1-2 system in the recent 1-1 draw with Scunthorpe.

Despite a man-of-the-match display, he remains Pompey’s most effective right-back. In fact, the only conventional right-back in their squad.

Which brings the subject back to the necessity of capturing a seasoned central midfielder before Wednesday’s 11pm transfer deadline.

Since Rose sustained his broken leg after 29 minutes against Northampton, the Blues have not collected victory in the subsequent four games.

Jackett himself pointed out last week that in the excellent December 1-0 triumph at Charlton, O’Keefe and Rose were central, with Gareth Evans and Jamal Lowe out wide.

Pompey desperately require experience and bite rather than youthful exuberance at their heart – and have five days to unearth a solution.

Play-off qualification could depend on it.