No walk-on parts, Portsmouth require star performers to arrive in traditionally ineffective January window
Long-time leaders Pompey’s season disintegrated upon Ben Thompson’s sudden recapture by Millwall.
The influential midfielder departed a club five points clear at League One’s summit – and fresh from having disposed of Premier League-bound Norwich from the FA Cup.
In his much-maligned absence, Kenny Jackett’s side still totalled an admirable 88 points in 2018-19, yet sunk to fourth spot and play-off participation rather than maintain the march to the Championship.
Perhaps linking that wretched capitulation to the loss of Thompson is a little too simplistic, other factors also had crucial bearing on the second half of the campaign.
Yet if the exit of an outstanding player could spark a season’s demolition, surely the January recruitment of a similarly prodigiously-talented performer can reinvigorate an unconvincing promotion push?
The Blues are desperate for inspiration. They remain locked on target for the play-off spots, yet that is not good enough for a club possessing pre-season aspirations of automatic promotion.
Since the 2013-14 campaign which represented a fresh era in terms of fan ownership, just once Pompey have failed to demonstrate progress through league placing.
That was during Andy Awford’s ill-fated campaign as permanent boss, with a 16th-placed finish in League Two ahead of the pivotal recruitment of Paul Cook in the summer of 2015.
The Blues hierarchy have targeted surpassing last season’s fourth spot, effectively breaking into League One’s top three. Presently they are 10th.
Jackett hasn’t replaced Nathan Thompson at right-back, while has two left-backs injured, subsequently acknowledging the priority isnow to recruit a stand-in.
He has trialled eight central-defensive pairings but has still to establish a solution, and there is a prolific striker asked to perform as a number 10 and rendered largely ineffectual through no fault of his own.
Finally, he lacks numbers and trust in players to challenge the holding pair of Ben Close and Tom Naylor.
So many issues require addressing, yet this side remain three points outside the top six with a game in hand following one defeat in 11 matches in all competitions.
Every criticism can comfortably be offset with a positive, such is the curious nature of this campaign. There is a genuine debate for the glass half full and half empty.
Which brings us to January and the opening of the transfer window, a period of the campaign during which Jackett and his recruitment team have traditionally struggled to exploit during his Fratton Park reign.
So inadequate have been Pompey’s dealings in the previous two mid-season windows, the Fratton faithful unsurprisingly possess very little confidence of a change in productivity this time around.
Especially with the manager claiming on Thursday he lacked a transfer kitty and would most likely be dealing in loans. Then again, Jackett is a master of bluff when presented with transfer questions, it’s important to delve beneath face value.
Still, the Blues require a successful transfer window to exhilarate their stuttering promotion push. Not a miracle, as the table will reassure, but an uplifting performance.
An injection of quality is essential to evolve this side from mere play-off contenders to a rather more convincing presence in the top six. It would certainly settle a few nerves.
Without question, this is a massive transfer window for Jackett, arguably the most significant of his time as Pompey boss considering those continuing to urge his dismissal.
And therein lies the problem, historically January has proven substandard, particularly when compared to his summer dealings.
Take the two signings recruited permanently almost 12 months ago – Andy Cannon and Bryn Morris.
The duo have totalled 22 games and one goal between them since joining, barely raising a ripple of a first-team presence.
Granted, Morris has struggled with injury, while Cannon plummeted out of favour after breaking into Pompey fans’ affections and deserves our sympathy.
Nonetheless, the fact remains they were recruited to bolster a Pompey side topping League One at that stage. In cold reality, they are paid-for transfers which have not come off, for whatever reason.
There were, of course, six new faces during that period, and few would have criticised the loan signings of Omar Bogle and James Vaughan before kicking a ball.
Viv Solomon-Otabor was paraded as gamble, a talented player and last-gasp recruit worth the risk, who ultimately had his moments but lacked consistency in seven starts.
Lloyd Isgrove was impacted by the late arrival of fellow left-winger Solomon-Otabor and subsequently failed to make a single appearance, barely included in a match-day squad.
Back to Bogle and Vaughan, they certainly represented ambition, both arriving from the Championship, yet scored just four goals between them.
Bogle enjoyed an impressive entrance but was hindered by injury and petered out, while Jackett presented Vaughan with just two starts and damningly allowed him to instead train with parent club Wigan at one stage.
The 2018 January window was equally as uninspiring, although Anton Walkes’ loan from Spurs became permanent and he has wracked up 61 games and three goals to date.
With his side impacted by injuries to midfielders Danny Rose and Stuart O’Keefe, Jackett made a double loan raid on former club Wolves.
Left-back Sylvain Deslandes made two appearances, was substituted in both, and is currently with Bulgarian First Division side Lokomotive Plovdiv.
Connor Ronan was the required midfielder, although had just nine starts and can now be found on loan spell at DAC Dunajska Streda in Slovakia.
Finally, goalkeeper Stephen Henderson, returned for a second spell at Fratton Park, collected a thigh strain while taking a goal kick on his first match back, ruling him out for the remainder of the campaign.
Overall, Jackett has recruited 10 players during January transfer windows, of which not a single one established themselves as a regular.
Perhaps a little harsh on Walkes considering his ongoing first-team involvement, yet he has largely been back-up for others, his versatility proving useful.
Jackett cannot afford bit-part players, extras and walk-on roles during this window – he needs star performers.
Characters like Ben Thompson to lift the team and their support, to inspire improved league form from an already sound base.
Promotion could hinge on Pompey’s 2020 January transfer window.