POMPEY were on their knees long before Peter Hartley’s decisive stoppage-time header.
Now Paul Cook believes he possesses the squad strength to avoid a repeat of last season’s agonising finale.
It was like somebody had a puncture but your hands were tied behind your back. It was something you had to take – but was painfulPaul Cook
The Blues were robbed of Adam Webster, Matt Clarke and a fit goalkeeper ahead of the two-legged play-off elimination at Plymouth.
By the final whistle, Gareth Evans and Danny Hollands had been sidelined, while others were limping through match action as an exhausted Blues were eliminated.
Those painful memories coupled with the withdrawal of the emergency loan window has prompted Cook to employ a bigger squad for their latest promotion push.
Recent recruits Aaron Simpson and Stanley Aborah have yet to feature, while others have been loaned out elsewhere for regular action.
Yet Cook is delighted with the depth of his playing options as he seeks to remain in third spot with 11 matches left.
He said: ‘I don’t think squad strength will find us out this year like last year.
‘I’m dead happy, our squad is very strong. All lads around the squad will be disappointed at not starting, but everyone has a part to play and you have got to stay fit, strong and be ready.
‘We were done last year, late on in the second Plymouth game I really felt sorry for team. That is not a nice feeling, I felt I couldn’t help them and as manager that is horrible.
‘It was like somebody had a puncture but your hands were tied behind your back. It was something you had to take – but was painful.
‘That memory will never leave me, nor should it, it should drive us on to be more successful.
‘That is why winning at home in the first leg would have been so important.
‘I felt we could have stumbled over the line and got to Wembley, but the reality was we were done. By the time we got to Plymouth, we were done.
‘I watch games now and it’s a question of working with Leam to make the right decision to help them, I want other people to come on.
‘Whether it’s Jack Whatmough to go three at the back, Chaplin, Lowe, Tom Davies, Hunt, we have so many good options to help the team and, as manager, that is great because it’s then down to your decision.’
Tuesday night at Crawley saw Danny Rose restored to the starting XI, while Aborah made the bench for the first time.
Noel Hunt also impressed as a substitute, while Tom Davies entered late on to add more defensive backbone.
Cook added: ‘Stanley is getting fitter and has great qualities.
‘It’s great he can have three or four weeks here getting fitter and stronger and eventually when he comes in is ready, rather than putting him in too quick.
‘Our team in general is based on fitness and energy, it’s important you are fit to get in.
‘Simpson is a younger boy that has come into the club, Drew Talbot is playing really well at present, we are dead happy, we have options all over the pitch.
‘So we are lucky around this squad that we have a lot of players.’