Loyalty set to be Cook’s Pompey policy in League One

Pompey boss Paul Cook Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey boss Paul Cook Picture: Joe Pepler
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The first clues were sounded amid the din of Pompey’s promotion party.

Paul Cook’s voice, hoarse even by his standards, was still full of conviction as the beer flowed and the songs filled the Fratton Park night.

‘I am a loyal person,’ the Blues manager said, as he considered the way forward in League One. ‘I always have been.’

The caveat to that view was there will be surgery needed on his squad, along with the hope the purse strings are loosened to allow it. But, essentially, Cook was intimating the players who got Pompey to the third tier of the English game deserve a chance at that level.

Hope, then, for those among the 16 players out of contract who contributed significantly to their team’s rise from the Football League basement at the fourth attempt.

Michael Doyle and Gareth Evans, of course, emphatically fall into that category alongside Enda Stevens.

Questions will be asked of Doyle’s age at 36, yet the captain can simply forward an ever-present league campaign as a compelling response to those doubting his conditioning.

Likewise, laughable talk of Evans being linked to Barnet can be filed in the transfer trash bin. The 29-year-old has been a fixture at right-back since converting to the role back in September.

Yes, questions could be asked of his continuing place there as we step up to the third tier of English football, but what can’t be doubted is his importance to Cook’s squad.

Elsewhere, Stevens who will be at the head of running in a wide-open field for player-of-the-year plaudits. But with the 26-year-old in the form of his career and receiving the accolades for his performances there will be suitors for his services.

The question for Pompey will be can they match what will be on the table for the Irishman, especially if Championship-level offers arrive.

Jack Whatmough looks set to be retained with Cook now convinced of the Gosport lad’s qualities and resolve after his injury battles. He appears to be just ahead of Tom Davies in the pecking order.

David Forde has silenced the doubters with 18 league clean sheets, but returns to Millwall at the end of his loan. The Irishman undoubtedly remedied Pompey’s weakness at dealing with high balls into the box, but will he be seen as the way forward at 37?

Liam O’Brien has proved a useful deputy for Forde, while Noel Hunt is a big character at the training ground but has picked up just five starts.

Committed young pros Ben Close, Brandon Haunstrup, Calvin Davies and Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain have failed to find playing time this term, and a step up a level looks only likely to widen the distance to first-team minutes.

Cook has cooed over Stanley Aborah’s quality while showing faith in the players he’d already signed this season. The Dutchman’s a wanted man, but that will probably leave Amine Linganzi in a more uncertain position.

Of the contracted players, Drew Talbot and injury-hampered Curtis Main have failed to pick up a league minute between them since October.

Michael Smith’s future looks certain to lie away from Fratton Park with Milan Lalkovic’s in the balance.

The leaves nine other senior contracted players who will form a foundation for a League One assault.

With a playing budget currently in the region of £2.5m and not expected to leap massively, much will depend on how Michael Eisner’s takeover bid plays out.

There remain obvious areas for surgery, such as attacking reinforcements with Eoin Doyle an obvious thought.

But Cook’s faith in the men who got Pompey there suggests they will be given the chance to take their club forward.