Clock is ticking on Portsmouth’s January six to provide crucial promotion impetus
The last glimpse of Andy Cannon was in the throes of defeat.
A 2-1 loss at Oxford United, nonetheless Pompey still retained long-time residency at League One’s summit, albeit precariously, by a single point.
That was 57 days ago.
Today Luton, riding a 24-match unbeaten run, have sprinted 11 points clear of a Blues side which have slumped into fourth.
As for Cannon, he has yet to re-emerge. A casualty who continues treatment room occupancy.
The midfielder was the first of Pompey’s six January transfer-window recruits, signed by Kenny Jackett from Rochdale in a deal worth around £150,000.
Following 100 minutes of first-team action, he has subsequently been sidelined for the last 14 matches, including today’s clash with Scunthorpe.
Cannon, of course, isn’t the solitary absentee among those arrivals parachuted in to bolster the then-league leaders’ three-and-a-half-month grip.
Similarly, Bryn Morris, Omar Bogle, Lloyd Isgrove and now James Vaughan have endured injury set-backs impeding selection. Only Viv Solomon-Otabor has been spared.
Lack of opportunities, squad competition and, of course, injuries have deprived the recent arrivals from establishing themselves as automatic Pompey starters.
Consequently, the cavalry charge launched by the January Six has to date largely spluttered.
With positive results also barely forthcoming since New Year’s Day, questions over the effectiveness of the Blues’ January business have understandably been raised.
In fairness, extenuating circumstances have so far been behind the lack of impact from many of their number – yet how Pompey’s promotion campaign craves any impetus they can supply from this point.
Timely, then, that at the Bescot Stadium, two were present in the starting XI – with Bogle and Solomon-Otabor also both finding the net.
Bogle, the loanee from Cardiff, comfortably represents Jackett’s most effective recruit of those half-dozen fresh faces.
A half-time impact at Luton yielded a debut goal in addition to the man-of-the-match accolade for the bubbly 25-year-old.
There was also his presence against Bristol Rovers which forced defender James Clarke to put through his own net, prompting some media outlets to incorrectly award the goal to the striker.
On Tuesday evening, his deft lob over Walsall stopper Liam Roberts represented a third goal in eight games from a player who, according to Jackett, has also introduced essential pace and mobility to his attack.
It marked a winning return to the side for Bogle, having frustratingly been sidelined for three fixtures with a hamstring problem.
Similarly, although on a lesser scale, Morris has had his moments. Once more, however, his contribution has been lessened by injury.
Snapped up from Shrewsbury for £15,000, the former England youth skipper has been absent from a third of matches available for. To be precise, that’s four missed out of 12.
Previously kept out of last month’s Doncaster game through an ankle problem, more recently he tweaked a muscle at the back of his knee after overstretching while moving house.
As a consequence, he has missed the last three games, not taking into account being cup-tied for the Checkatrade Trophy semi-final visit to Bury.
Still, Morris has impressed during his five outings, demonstrating comfort on the ball and a natural propensity for moving up the pitch to participate in forward situations.
Indeed, Jackett has voiced his determination not to shackle the 22-year-old’s attacking instincts by restricting him purely to a deep-lying holding-midfield role.
Morris, who netted his maiden Blues goal against Southend last month, will miss today’s match, but is pencilled in for a return within the next fortnight.
Not quite such encouraging news on Cannon, however, although he is also in the frame for a re-emergence before March’s expiry.
It shouldn’t be overlooked that a 24-minute cameo on his debut against Blackpool was encouraging, arguably the highlight of a grim 1-0 Fratton Park defeat.
He was rewarded with a start against Oxford the following game, only to succumb to injury after 76 minutes with a thigh issue which continues to rule him out of selection.
Moving onto Solomon-Otabor, the Birmingham loanee has made five appearances, of which four have been starts.
An eye-catching bow at Southend was later followed by winning the penalty against Barnsley, which Bogle crucially spurned in a match which finished goalless.
However, until Walsall, he had been deposited back onto the bench and not utilised after hauled off at half-time in the Gigg Lane Checkatrade Trophy fixture.
Solomon-Otabor is pacy, direct and capable of causing problems down the left flank, particularly valuable attributes with Ronan Curtis facing time on the sidelines having chopped off the top of a finger.
The cases of Vaughan and Isgrove differ to their January companions in that neither have yet been handed a start, thereby lacking reasonable opportunity to demonstrate their talent.
Vaughan, on loan from Wigan, has featured seven times for Pompey, all arriving from the bench, with Jackett at present employing him as a second-half impact player.
Hardly what the former Everton man signed up for, yet the re-emergence of Pitman and return to fitness of Oli Hawkins has ramped up competition in attacking positions.
During Vaughan’s substitute run outs, he has demonstrated mobility, pace, aggression and immense work-rate across the line, willing to harry and hassle defenders and goalkeepers.
There remains an inkling his time will come – providing the striker is allowed the match minutes.
Yet presently he is struggling with a back injury, potentially ruling him out of today’s Fratton Park fixture.
Finally, forgotten man Isgrove has still to see a minute of first-team involvement, while has been included in a single squad since his arrival.
There was a two-match absence through a slight knee problem, last month ruling him out of Plymouth and Southend, but his sidelining is largely driven by competition.
Isgrove has often been present at games as the 19th man, ready to step into the match-day squad should last-minute injury dictate, while recently netted for the reserves at Swindon.
Nonetheless, for a winger who turned down Bradford in favour of a Fratton Park loan switch from Barnsley, he must possess regrets at how the move is panning out.
With his contract expiring in the summer, this is not quite the platform for his talents that Isgrove would have anticipated.
Still, with nine matches remaining of the League One campaign and a Checkatrade Trophy final at Wembley, there exists opportunity.
And perhaps, just perhaps, one of the January Six can etch their name in Pompey folklore in recognition of a telling contribution for 2018-19.