Adam Barton has admitted his pre-season frustration has affected the start to his Pompey career.
The cultured midfielder joined the club on a free transfer in the summer after leaving Coventry but then picked up a groin problem shortly after his arrival, which ruled him out of the club’s entire pre-season fixture programme.
The 24-year-old has made significant progress since then with a debut at centre-back in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy defeat at Exeter last month before he made his League Two bow for the club in the 1-1 draw at Oxford.
And after edging ahead of Nigel Atangana and Danny Hollands in the battle to partner Michael Doyle, Barton has now made six straight starts and is expected to continue in tomorrow’s home clash with Mansfield.
But he believes he is still some way short of his best as he attempts to play catch-up with his fitness.
Barton said: ‘I’m still not as sharp as I have been in the past.
‘But that comes down to missing a lot of pre-season.
‘It’s a vital part of every footballer’s season and gives you that base of fitness.
‘You do it for a reason and it has definitely had an impact in terms of trying to get to where I want to be.
‘I feel like I’m getting there and if I can keep getting games under my belt, I’m sure that sharpness will come soon.
‘At the moment, I still feel like I am playing catch-up.
‘There are times during a game where I feel I need to do much better.
‘I’m working on it.’
A hectic run of fixtures has also made things difficult for the former Preston man to put in the extra fitness work on the training ground to ensure he is fresh for the next game.
He said: ‘It’s hard when the games are coming thick and fast.
‘If you have the Tuesday night game, you can’t do as much on the training ground as you might like.
‘You have to make sure you have recuperated from the game at the weekend.
‘So you have to find the right balance.
‘But there are more Saturday-to-Saturdays coming up.
‘So that will mean we can do a lot more work in the week.’
After the frustration of conceding a stoppage-time equaliser in the midweek 1-1 draw with Stevenage, second-placed Pompey will be looking to secure an overdue home win against the high-flying Stags tomorrow.
And Barton made the point that Paul Cook’s side are still ironing out some of the flaws in their play.
He said: ‘We probably haven’t played anywhere near as well as we can just yet.
‘But I think that is just part of a new team coming together.
‘It takes time for players to understand each other and get used to certain things.
‘We’ve got to remember it’s a whole new team and none of the players have really played together that much before.
‘By Christmas time, we should know each other like the backs of our hands but at the moment, we don’t.
‘I think it’s exciting for the future.
‘At the moment it’s good that we are right up there, but we all know we can do so much better.’