Opinion: What Portsmouth need to do before the close of the transfer window and why a former Birmingham and Hull midfielder could be an option

We asked PO4 Podcast contributor Freddie Webb for his thoughts on what Pompey need between now and the close of the transfer window.

Monday, 23rd August 2021, 6:00 pm

Here’s what he came up with...

There are so many positives to take from Pompey’s new season but they’re far from the finished article.

Winning three of their first four league games – and drawing the other – without conceding a goal is an excellent achievement and shouldn’t be scoffed at.

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The team have been rock solid defensively, taken their chances for the most part, and steadily improved to achieve 10 points from a possible 12.

Some of the performances have been incomplete, in my opinion, though.

Pompey failed to take the limited number of chances that came their way against Doncaster and lacked cohesion in midfield both against Donny and Fleetwood.

But this is an entirely new team, with countless changes on and off the pitch.

Former Birmingham and Hull attacking midfielder Dan Crowley is currently available on a free transfer. Picture: Pete Norton/Getty Images

I’ve already seen what the Blues can look like at their best.

At the first match back at Fratton Park against Crewe, Pompey put in a stellar performance and controlled almost the entire 90 minutes – creating chances, pumping up the crowd and dictating the play from start to finish.

For a football club taking an entirely new direction, I didn’t expect that standard of performance this early in the season.

Not all the creases have been ironed out yet, though.

For me, Pompey are a few players short and a lot of hours on the training pitch away from transitioning from a side flirting with promotion to being a genuine contender.

A lot can still change with eight days left in the transfer window.

Before the first game of the season, the side only had two central midfielders. Now Danny Cowley has several options to choose from.

But it’s more than simply just having flexibility.

Pompey need players in several positions which can fit perfectly in Cowley’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

Currently, there are a few glaring holes in the squad ,which if they aren’t filled, could be the difference between promotion and another season of League One football.

For me, these gaps are in the midfield and final third of the pitch.

The back-four has been excellent by being reliable and supporting the midfield from the wide areas.

Problems arise further forward, however.

Pompey missed right-winger Marcus Harness terribly against Doncaster Rovers.

He can create chances by attacking the full-back and whipping in crosses with his strong foot, or by drifting in centrally to create passing options.

But without him, the right-flank lacks spark.

Reeco Hackett-Fairchild and Michael Jacobs are both on their weak foot when asked to play there, while Ronan Curtis is clearly more suited to being an inside-forward on the opposite side.

Against Doncaster, Hackett-Fairchild looked uncomfortable on his right side and struggled to link up with Kieron Freeman, which is not intended to be harsh on the 23-year-old.

He’s gone from a forgettable loan spell at Southend to putting in encouraging performances against stronger opposition for Pompey – his cup performance versus Millwall being a standout.

But he’s simply playing out of position at right-wing and is not as effective.

Moving Jacobs or Curtis there diminishes Pompey’s strength on the left side.

And with Jayden Reid out for a lengthy spell there are no clear options if Harness is injured.

Pompey simply need anothe r right-winger to have a cohesive midfield that creates regular chances for their strikers.

Some cover in other areas of the pitch would be nice but would be a luxury when considering the Blues’ tight budget.

Another young left-sided centre-back would be great and allow Connor Ogilvie to compete solely for the left-back spot.

However, one role in the side needs improving more than any other, attacking-midfield.

It’s been a sore subject for years now.

Arguably, the Blues haven’t had a proper No10 since Gary Roberts left in 2017.

Gareth Evans performed exceptionally well there in the past – but was someone who arrived late into the penalty area as an attacking threat rather than a player who could unlock defences.

Harness has succeeded there at times and linked up well with John Marquis, but that makes the gap at right-wing more profound.

A playmaker who facilitates his team-mates is a must buy.

The main problem in the final third so far has been the large spaces between the midfield and the rest of the team.

Opponents have exploited this weakness already.

Doncaster overloaded central areas and blocked the passing lanes to isolate Marquis and Gassan Ahadme, and Shrewsbury’s physical approach last Tuesday night also disrupted any midfield build-up.

Pompey clearly need another creative focal point to control the midfield and create chances, as they don’t have many options.

Ahadme is better suited as a penalty-box threat who latches onto the last defender, while Joe Morrell has played most of his career deeper in midfield.

Facilitating a transfer like this late in the window is difficult in terms of budget and finding available options.

Most of the best attacking midfielders on the market – Scott Fraser being one of them – have already been snapped up.

Unless Cowley can free up the money by moving players on, there’s little room to manoeuvre.

The only player available that comes to mind is former Birmingham City and Hull City midfielder Dan Crowley.

He has pedigree from playing at Championship level, helped the Tigers win the League One title last season, while his skillset is based entirely around dictating possession and making key passes.

Crowley remains available on a free transfer despite training with Cheltenham and most recently Gillingham during the close season.

Slim pickings from players out of contract or the loan market seem to be Cowley’s only option if the budget isn’t balanced, but that is the key weakness in Pompey’s squad so far.

A right-winger and attacking-midfielder still need to be found. But, overall, I’m happy with this new side.

It’s been a breath of fresh air to have a positive outlook when supporting the Blues again.

The team have got off to a great start, but there is so much more to look forward to as the side gels together.

Pompey are nearly there, but if they want to bask in any promotion glory, these weaknesses have to be addressed.