The huge opportunity League One presents to Portsmouth next season
The League One terrain has been defined.
And it’s a landscape which appears less challenging to ascend than the one Pompey just failed to conquer this term.
Charlton’s late, late play-off success over Sunderland has confirmed the shape of the third tier next season.
One thing is immediately striking about the lie of the League One land: it’s northern - a lot more northern.
So yes, the Blues road warriors will be carrying out the extra hard miles on the road following their team next term. And yes, there’s the glory of the additional trips to Sandbach services to consider.
But delve a little deeper and another reality dawns: it’s one which is undoubtedly presents a huge opportunity to Kenny Jackett’s men.
Firstly, it’s worth considering the trips the Blues don’t have to make.
Gone are Luton, Barnsley and Charlton - the land of milk, honey and exorbitant wage bills their destination.
The Championship challenge awaits a trio of clubs, who, in a clinical, reasoned final analysis were deserving of those berths. Any of those sides staying around in League One next term would have proved a powerful foe, no doubt.
But it’s the League One trap door which has provided a fillip with the clubs it claimed.
Plymouth, Scunthorpe, Bradford and Walsall were those swallowed up on a dramatic final day at the bottom of the table.
As much as the modern rivalry would make the suggestion a grudging one among Pompey fans, a trip to Home Park was one of the tougher challenges offered on the road last term, especially with the excitement the occasion engendered among the Pilgrims.
Scunthorpe’s funding made their relegation a surprise - and boost for the division. Finishes of fifth, third and seventh preceded their demise, largely under Stuart McCall. A boost for the rest of the division, no doubt.
A club who can sell 18,500 season tickets like Bradford are one who can quickly generate momentum, while Walsall started last term like a side going up, not down.
The play-off final, you could argue, did Pompey a late, late favour on Sunday.
Sunderland across those five encounters last term proved a familiar foe closely aligned to the ability of Jackett’s men.
Even the most one-eyed fan would have to accept, however, Charlton were superior to the Blues on both occasions they met. Given the option of having to finish above one of those clubs, the Addicks would undoubtedly be the less appealing challenge
An assessment of the new faces at this level gives us clubs who aren’t as upwardly mobile as those who left it.
Ipswich, Rotherham and Bolton make for a capable trio, but not opposition to strike fear into the hearts of their rivals.
There will be sympathy for those suffering at the Macron right now, no doubt, but a minimum 12-point deduction for entering administration and the trials which surround such uncertainty should make their first thought being able to stay put in League One.
Rotherham are a solid, organised side who will be in contention but not a foe Pompey can’t overcome, while the word Ipswich will be looking to their young talent and a turnover of playing staff suggests it could be a transitional period at Portman Road.
Coming in the other direction is a Bury outfit seemingly headed down the same route as Bolton. Players not being paid, a winding-up petition and a manager looking to move on are all signifiers of a club heading over the financial precipice, ones which will tell a familiar tale around these parts.
After back-to-back promotions Tranmere will aim for survival, a challenge made that much tougher if one of the vultures preparing to swoop claim the services of boss Micky Mellon.
Lincoln and MK Dons appear two of the most progressive of League One’s new faces, with Luton offering clear evidence of what momentum and financial backing can achieve in this environment.
Yet, taken as a whole, it’s a presentable division for an improving League One contender familiar with the territory.
Of the existing clubs, Sunderland offer the obvious challenge. Not going up on a budget which blew away their peers goes down as a major failure, but they appear set to go again.
Doncaster will be in contention, of that there is no doubt. Oxford and Peterborough both possess the potential to accelerate progress.
Coventry have the feel of a club a year stronger for their evolution under Mark Robins, Fleetwood and Burton are improving.
But does the division provide a fearsome challenge? Or the best chance in recent years for any side with ambitions of progress to go up?
The caveat to that is it’s a debate which should be revisited after 5pm on Monday, September 2 when League One’s transfer business is complete for the summer.
The demand there is the argument has to be more convincing in Pompey’s favour when we do reflect on Jackett’s recruitment. But with the line-up now confirmed, the reality is it’s 46 games and 8,863 miles on the road paved with opportunity.
More miles, more northern and more winnable.