Assessing Portsmouth's midfield hunt - what's required, why it's needed and who could be the answer

It’s a shift in focus that Pompey are hoping will help remedy their limp start to the season.

Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 5:31 pm
From left: Bryn Morris, Jake Doyle-Hayes and Ben Thompson

The Blues boss has already made five signings this summer – Sean Raggett, Cameron Pring, Callum Johnson, Michael Jacob and, most recently, Rasmus Nicolaisen.

However, after failing to win any of their opening three League One matches, Pompey now feel a fresh face in central midfield is required.

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Jackett's been dissatisfied how his engine room have fared so far as the Blues languish in the relegation zone.

Certainly, results need to change quickly, with pressure growing on the already under-fire manager.

With two places remaining in Pompey’s 22-man squad and room left in the budget after Gareth Evans’ departure to Bradford last week, Jackett will be hoping to land the man he feels can make the difference.

We’ve taken an in-depth look into the Blues’ current options and what sort of player Jackett will be hoping to land...

Who are Pompey's current options?

Tom Naylor finds himself back as a regular presence following his shock omission in the play-off defeat to Oxford in July.

The captain's remit in Pompey's set-up has been clear for all to see since arriving from Burton in June 2018.

It's his job to shield the back four, stamp out any fires and mop up the danger.

Naylor's passing might not be the most economical, but it's the man next to him in Jackett’s 4-2-3-1 system who's responsible for being more attack-minded.

Bryn Morris has been Naylor's partner in every game so far this season.

However, the former Middlesbrough man’s performances have come in for criticism.

Sections of supporters have bemoaned Morris not stamping his authority on matches enough.

There have been some glimpses of his long-range passing, but overall he hasn't dictated games, while his shooting has been wayward.

Jackett’s is unhappy how Naylor and Morris have dovetailed, which suggests there could be a change in personnel for this Saturday's trip to Burton.

Ben Close must be hoping for an opportunity to impress

The Southsea lad has started each match as a substitute so far, climbing off the bench only once.

Against the backdrop of being axed from both squads for the play-offs, Close is surely growing frustrated by his lack of opportunities.

Granted, Morris offers more of a physical presence but the academy graduate certainly provides more of a goal threat, having netted six times last term.

Andy Cannon is Pompey's other candidate to play in a deeper role.

There's no doubt the ex-Rochdale man brings plenty of energy and verve, but he's been preferred as a number 10 for the majority of his Blues career.

By his own admission, Cannon wants to nail down one position rather than be swapped around.

What do Pompey need?

There's been a glaring lack of creativity in the engine room during the opening matches of the season.

While the problem position was previously the number-10 role, concern has now turned to deeper in the middle of the park.

With Pompey struggling going forward, particularly in the defeat to Wigan on Saturday, Jackett's identified that more is needed.

Supporters continue to yearn for Ben Thompson, although tthere’s virtually zero chance he'll be coming back – despite not being a regular starter at Millwall so far this term.

It is somewhat worrying that the former fans' favourite has never been replaced, however, even though he left the best part of two years ago.

While it won’t be the diminutive Londoner, someone of his ilk is required.

Thompson was an out-and-out box-to-box midfielder who could throw in a challenge, play a splitting pass and contribute in the final third.

Each was an outstanding attribute of his and now a similar player needs to be recruited.

The summer target that got away

There was as much excitement about Cameron McGeehan's loan arrival in January as there has been with signings in recent years.

The 25-year-old had played a key role to get Barnsley out of League One in 2018-19, while he forged himself a reputation as one of the best young midfielders in the lower leagues when battling the Blues for Luton in League Two earlier in his career.

McGeehan didn't quite live up to supporter expectations at Fratton Park, though, as he scored twice in 17 games.

He was solid rather than spectacular, with his Pompey career nadiring with the crucial penalty miss at Oxford in the shootout.

Nevertheless, he was still highly regarded by the backroom staff and team-mates alike. The general consensus was there more was plenty left to come.

Pompey were keen on him making his switch permanent this summer. In unusual Jackett fashion, he went on record to say how much he'd like McGeehan to return, while the ex-Norwich man also wanted to extend his time on the south coast.

However, the implementation of the League One salary cap would prove detrimental to the Blues' pursuit.

Who else has been linked?

On the back of The News revealing Pompey are in the market for a midfielder, Jake Doyle-Hayes is reportedly one target that's emerged.

The 21-year-old is a free agent, having been released by Aston Villa at the end of last season.

While Doyle-Hayes lacks League One experience, he had a highly fruitful spell on loan at Cheltenham last term.

He scored once in 36 games as the Robins' season ended in League play-off semi-final defeat to Northampton.

Doyle-Hayes was one of Cheltenham's stand-out performers throughout the campaign. Manager Michael Duff has admitted he'd love to have the Republic of Ireland youth international back but know he's priced out of a move.

Pompey reportedly had Ben Woodburn on their radar earlier this summer, although there'd be several question marks surrounding whether he could play as a holding midfielder rather than in a preferred advanced role.

Josh Knight featured in the middle for Peterborough last season, but the Leicester ace wants to put his sole focus into operating in central defence.