The key areas Portsmouth need to address during the January transfer window

It’s a change in tack that suggests Pompey have learned from their past January transfer windows.

Friday, 15th November 2019, 3:22 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th November 2019, 6:49 pm
Pompey boss Kenny Jackett. Picture: Graham Hunt

As the Blues prepare for their mid-term recruitment, waves being made from inside Fratton Park underline quality rather than quantity will be prioritised in the new year.

It was the latter Kenny Jackett opted for almost 12 months ago as his side sat at the summit of the table.

Six players arrived in total, although only perhaps Omar Bogle was earmarked for a regular starting spot.

Sign up to our Portsmouth FC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Andy Cannon and Bryn Morris were the two permanent signings from Rochdale and Shrewsbury.

Aged 21 and 22 respectively, they were regarded more as ones for the future.

Meanwhile, Viv Solomon-Otabor came is as a back-up winger, while Lloyd Isgrove and James Vaughan joined to ensure Pompey had enough bodies in case injuries took their toll.

A sound plan at the time – but we all know how the season finished!

As Pompey prepare for this January, they’re now focusing on specific areas that can light the touchpaper to a successful promotion push.

The Blues’ squad, on paper, should be challenging at the upper reaches of the table.

Even after losing Matt Clarke and Jamal Lowe last summer, the consensus was positive, after the likes of John Marquis, Ellis Harrison and Marcus Harrison all arrived at PO4.

Jackett remains confident there’s a strong basis to his set-up – now it’s a matter of fine-tuning.

‘There are a couple of key areas Kenny is aware of and would like to strengthen, but we don’t want to be bringing in players just because of their name and what they have done elsewhere,’ chief executive Mark Catlin told The News.

‘This year is going to be more focused, rather than general strengthening of the squad. We have strong depth, so it’s looking at key areas we feel we can improve on.’

Analysing the opening third of the campaign, with Pompey 13th in the table, there’s the case that two positions need addressing.

In the past five transfer windows, Jackett has yet to recruit a specialist number 10 who features week in, week out.

Louis Dennis could fall into that category.

But the free transfer from Bromley made just one substitute appearance in the league last term before being sold to Leyton Orient in the summer.

Arguably, the No 10 role is the linchpin of a 4-2-3-1 system, someone who possesses the ingenuity and imagination to score goals and, even more crucially, provide assists.

What Pompey have yet to achieve this season is getting the best out of Marquis.

Arriving from Doncaster for a fee that could rise to almost £2m, he’s yet to hit the heights he did at the Keepmoat.

When he’s spearheaded the attack, the striker has largely been starved of service.

After plundering 67 times in three campaigns for Donny, he’ll be disappointed with his tally so far of four goals in 20 appearances for the Blues.

What Marquis thrived on at Doncaster was having a creative thinker in James Coppinger supplying the ammunition.

The evergreen 38-year-old’s appetite for assists was – and still is as we saw during Pompey’s 2-1 win at Donny last month – insatiable.

What’s more, the Blues have lacked someone like this to conjure up a moment of magic or thread through a killer pass, particularly when teams visit Fratton Park.

Gareth Evans remains an important member of the squad in that position, particularly when energy and work-rate is required away from home.

Jackett has said he wants Brett Pitman higher up the pitch when he plays, while Andy Cannon's caught the eye without providing a direct goal threat.

And even though the Blues put four goals past Southend when Marquis was in the number 10, there’s the argument he was dropping too deep and his goalscoring prowess was wasted.

When the ex-Millwall man got himself into the box in first-half stoppage-time, he put the hosts in front.

Then there’s the issue of energy in the middle of the park that Jackett may want.

Tom Naylor is Pompey’s midfield enforcer and they’ll be hoping his recent hamstring injury isn’t too severe.

Regardless, there’s perhaps been a lack of vigour and drive alongside him on occasions.

Ben Close's penchant of keeping possession and making things tick is an attribute that shouldn’t go underestimated, despite him becoming the latest boo boy among some sections of supporters.

Yet there are occasions when more thrust has been needed.

Ross McCrorie showed signs of that in pre-season, as well as at QPR in the Carabao Cup.

Inconsistent displays in the engine room and a switch to right-back before he suffered a hamstring setback, however, means Pompey are without someone who gets up and down the pitch.

Cannon is one who fans want to be given more opportunities, having failed to start a league game since Wycombe on September 21.

Even still, with Bryn Morris’ return date following an abdomen operation yet to be confirmed, Pompey are shy of bodies.

And with Close nor Naylor not scoring since a 2-0 win over Tranmere on August 10, it’s also an area that hasn’t produced enough goals.

Pompey will struggle to sign someone of Ben Thompson’s calibre – but someone of his ilk is coveted.

Those are the areas that may take priority, although a couple of others shouldn’t be ruled out either.

Right-back has been a problem position since Nathan Thompson’s departure in the summer.

Five players have operated in the role so far – James Bolton, Anton Walkes, Christian Burgess, McCrorie and most recently Brandon Haunstrup.

Yet Jackett may not feel it should take precedence.

McCrorie was starting to display his quality before his injury and should be back fit next month.

Moreover, Haunstrup has performed admirably deputising for the Scot, while Bolton’s work on the training ground should pay dividends if he breaks his way back into the side.

Central defence had settled down following an insecure start to the season.

Burgess and Sean Raggett formed a partnership that spanned nine successive matches, but the latter limped out at Harrogate with an adductor complaint.

With Oli Hawkins (foot) nearing his return and Paul Downing performing well at Wetherby Road after replacing Raggett, there are, however, options already in place.

What can be assured is that the latest January transfer window will define Pompey’s season come the end.

And Jackett’s business must significantly improve on his two previous winters at PO4 – otherwise they'll be shackled to another year in League One.