Neil Allen gives his verdict on Portsmouth's play-off hopes, squad size, progress under Danny Cowley, contracts and the current 17-day break

Pompey’s play-off hopes were dented further on Saturday as the they played out a goalless draw against Wycombe.

By Pepe Lacey
Monday, 21st March 2022, 2:00 pm
Updated Monday, 21st March 2022, 2:21 pm

The point means Danny Cowley’s men sit in 10th in League One, eights points adrift of the top six.

Here, Blues reporter Pepe Lacey is joined by chief sports writer Neil Allen to discuss Pompey’s ever-fading play-off ambitions as well as the ominous contract situation the Fratton Park outfit find themselves heading into the summer.

Here’s what was said.

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Q: Pompey can still mathematically reach the play-offs, do you still believe a top-six finish can be achieved this season after the results from the past three games?

I’ve said for ages that Pompey wouldn’t get to the play-offs.

People can get carried away with big wins over Doncaster and Crewe but Pompey have shown against the majority of teams that are above them in the league, especially in the last three games, that they can’t break them down.

Even though it is mathematically possible, I can’t see it. I see no evidence, nothing to change my opinion that Pompey haven’t quite got enough for the play-offs this season.

From left: Danny Cowley, Sean Raggett, Hayden Carter and Marcus Harness

I think this is a decent Pompey team but it’s not good enough to get into the top six.

Although they can beat teams heavily who are struggling, it’s the teams above them they need to beat and they’ve had two shots in three games to do that.

They’re definitely closer and I think everyone can see that, you can see the team has evolved and improved.

Hayden Carter has been an outstanding signing and if you had him at the start of the season, George Hirst, as he is now, you’re a better side.

Clarke Robertson is now fit, Connor Ogilvie has been superb, Louis Thompson has got games under his belt now and is an important figure.

For me this is now a better side than the side at the start of the season.

It has clearly evolved because Pompey have had one defeat in the past 10 games and we’ve seen them have heart and fight along with gutsy and spirited performances which was something they didn’t have at the start of the campaign.

Q: The squad has been hit hard by injuries since January, often leaving Pompey with just 13 fit senior players for games. Was that a mistake by Cowley during the last transfer window or was there simply no money left to bolster numbers?

The budget was maxed out in January.

Tyler Walker came in and is an expensive loanee – that was what Danny Cowley went for and he reallocated funds from players leaving elsewhere in the squad, which has left it a small squad.

He’s gone for quality over quantity and that has impacted Pompey significantly during the current run with 13 fit senior players available for some of the games.

It’s a small squad but the manager chose this way by allocating funds for quality players rather than getting more players in and spreading the cost.

Q: Pompey run the risk of finishing lower in the table this year than they did 12 months ago. Is that really progress bearing in mind this is their fifth season in this division or should progress be measured in other ways?

There’s clearly been no progress made in terms of league position.

In the summer they made the decision to rip up a squad that finished eighth, who weren’t good enough for the play-offs and many of them were beyond their shelf life at Pompey.

Rebuilds take time and there isn’t going to be instant success.

If Pompey finished lower than eighth it would be a disappointment, they haven’t looked like getting to the play-offs all season and that’s tremendously disappointing.

On the other hand, we all knew it would be a painful process to rebuild, bring in new players and to go in a different direction after Kenny Jackett.

Next year has to be a promotion challenge.

This summer will be Danny Cowley’s third transfer window and he’s always stressed the importance of having three transfer windows, so next year they have to be up there.

This season, though, they’re nowhere near so it is difficult to gauge the progress.

Q: Once again Pompey have some serious thinking to do when it comes to contracts at the end of the season. Is anyone nailed on to stay? And vice-versa, who do you expect to leave?

It’s difficult with contracts because we don’t know what the manager is thinking.

Players always say they want to stay but ask the manager and they’ll say ‘Yeah, I really like him’ so it’s not clear.

Sean Raggett is one, is he going to stay?

I have my own doubts on him but that’s down to the club to sort out.

All the loanees will return and then what might happen to the likes of Reeco Hackett?

Marcus Harness is a no-brainer. His option will be activated so he’ll stay to put the club in a position to potentially sell him in the summer.

For me, two of the outstanding players of the season, Gavin Bazunu and Hayden Carter, go in the summer and then you are having to replace quality like that in League One, which will be a tough challenge.

Cowley backed himself to get a better player than Craig MacGillivray and brought Bazunu in so it can be done, but it’ll be a tough summer.

Q: Will the enforced break Pompey are now on help or hinder them?

We saw it hindered them massively during the Covid outbreak in December.

Some players were going really well, like Hirst and Mahlon Romeo, and when they came back it took Hirst a while to get going, Romeo hasn’t quite got going again so it’s not ideal.

Pompey are on a good run of form, they’ve only lost once in 10 games so the issue is, can they recapture that after a 17-day break?

Clearly it will help the injury situation, rest weary limbs, but then you rush into another period where they’ve got eight games in 26 days.

It will be chaos, so we’ll see, but without doubt the break before Christmas impacted Pompey significantly.