League One latest: Portsmouth 'not in a position' to sign free agents - but new Sunderland boss Alex Neil says he is | Karl Robinson 'furious' as Oxford suffer same Kassam Stadium fate as Blues

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It’s an option Pompey boss Danny Cowley admitted he was unable to explore – but new Sunderland boss Alex Neil said he’d be tempted to go down the free transfer route in a bid to turn his side’s fortunes around.

But just like his Fratton Park contemporary’s initial stance on the matter, the Black Cats manager said it’s not always the best solution at this time of the year.

Cowley was initially against exploring the free-agents market in January but appeared to change his mind following Shaun Williams’ back injury and Joe Morrell’s three-man ban for his red card against Oxford.

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Yet the Blues boss was soon backtracking again, claiming he wasn’t ‘in a position to look at the free agent market’ as he prepared to work with what he has got.

That has since seen the likes of Michael Jacobs operate in midfield with impressive affect.

But with Neil’s first game in charge of Sunderland resulting in a 1-1 draw at Wimbledon on Saturday, he witnessed at first-hand the shortcomings in the squad he inherited from Lee Johnson.

As a result, he confessed that he could be tempted to bring in a free agent – if the circumstances were right.

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He said: ‘I wouldn't rule anything out, but what I don't want to do is add to the group with players who have the same issues we have already got by bringing in players who just haven't played.

New Sunderland manager Alex Neil saw his side draw 1-1 at Wimbledon on Saturday    Picture: George Wood/Getty ImagesNew Sunderland manager Alex Neil saw his side draw 1-1 at Wimbledon on Saturday    Picture: George Wood/Getty Images
New Sunderland manager Alex Neil saw his side draw 1-1 at Wimbledon on Saturday Picture: George Wood/Getty Images

‘It's really difficult in the free market, because you dip into it and bring them in but then it will take me a month or so to bring them up to speed and then we've got three games or something left.

‘It's a difficult situation at the moment.

‘That's not an excuse, it's my honest opinion based on what I've seen since I came in.’

Sunderland, who remain fourth in the table, brought in the likes of Jermain Defoe, Patrick Roberts and Jack Clark last month, with all three having limited game time for their previous clubs before their moves.

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This time last week Oxford boss Karl Robinson was cook-a-hoop with his U’s’ dramatic turnaround against 10-man Pompey at the Kassam Stadium.

But fast forward seven days and he was furious with the way his side lost out to Bolton 3-2, calling the Trotters’ late winner 'not acceptable'.

The points looked set to be shared with just four minutes left on the clock, only for the hosts to be punished for being out of position following one of their own corners.

Robinson told the U’s’ YouTube channel: ‘People will talk about conceding in the way that we did. It comes from a ridiculous corner that wasn’t meant to happen.

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‘The keeper claims it and then all of sudden you’re out of position and they hurt you.

‘We had three or four opportunities to hurt them in the second half but we never did.

‘The one defensive mistake was when we were in random positions that they hit us on the break and scored the goal from a corner and that’s not acceptable. That’s the bit that infuriates me.’

The result sees Oxford drop out of the top six, while Bolton stay a point and one place above Pompey in 10th – although the Blues have a game in hand.

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Other results: Accrington Stanley 4-0 Crewe, Burton 2-2 Cambridge, Cheltenham 2-0 Fleetwood, Lincoln 1-1 Wycombe, MK Dons 0-0 Ipswich, Morecambe 1-1 Gillingham, Plymouth1-0 Shrewsbury, Wigan 2-1 Charlton.