‘Pompey weren’t good enough’ - Neil Allen’s end-of-season verdict plus the crucial factor this summer for Portsmouth and view on futures of Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers loanees

Neil Allen has given his end-of-season Pompey verdict as the campaign drew to a close.

By Pepe Lacey
Thursday, 5th May 2022, 4:55 am

Pompey succumbed to a sixth term in League One as Danny Cowley’s side finished seven points away from the play-offs in 10th.

Now the dust has settled on the Blues’ campaign, our chief sports writer gave his reaction to the Fratton Park outfit’s season as a whole.

Q: What was your overall verdict on Pompey’s season as a whole?

Sign up to our Portsmouth FC newsletter

‘Disappointing but I think realistically I couldn’t see a play-off challenge.

‘It was always that thing about a transition season because so many players left last summer, the ridiculous situation with all the trialists, so it was always going to be a season for rebuilding and perhaps hopefully a play-off challenge.

‘It threatened to a few times but Pompey came nowhere near it, they’re not a top six side. The whole cliche about the table doesn’t lie and it doesn’t lie because this is what Pompey are.

‘They finished 10th in the end and it’s desperately disappointing. It will be their sixth successive season in League One, but it’s part of the process and more strengthening in the summer can lead to a better challenge next year.

From left: Danny Cowley, George Hirst, Aiden O'Brien, Michael Jacobs.

‘Next year for Danny Cowley has to be a play-off challenge because this year was for him to organise things and rebuild. Next year, 2022-23 has to be the minimum of a top-six challenge. This will be a big one where he really will be judged.’

Q: They finished 10th, seven points adrift from the play-offs. It was a rebuilding season so has there been progression made throughout the club?

‘On the pitch progression they picked up more points than they did last season but finished two places below.

‘In terms of league table placings they didn’t progress but in terms of squad building they have got some firm foundations there.

‘I would say Danny Cowley over the course of the year recruited eight very good players plus Mahlon Romeo, although his form dipped after Christmas. Eight-and-a-half good players which is a very good return.

‘Paul Cook did it superbly in his first season Kenny Jackett didn’t quite get them as consistently as Cowley has, but it’s not often a manager gets players like that in a short period of time so that gives hope.

‘Three of those players though as well as Romeo are on loan and not permanent, so there’s going to be a lot of questions about how you replace Bazunu, Hirst and Carter - that’s the concern. He’s also reduced the money taken up in the playing budget as well with Marquis and Harrison leaving, Downing will be out of contract at the end of the season so there will be more flexibility in the playing budget this season.

‘It will be a lot easier to strengthen and use his budget this summer than last summer.

Off the pitch there is all the £11m work happening at Fratton Park and buying the training ground. There is plenty going on but they need another really good transfer window this summer.’

Q: There were many factors to Pompey’s poor finish like loan flops, inconsistency and the squad before January as a few but are they fully to blame as to why Pompey didn’t progress as much as many thought.

‘Pompey weren’t good enough, there are no excuses they just weren’t good enough.

‘Gassan didn’t work out and Azeez didn’t work out but people shouldn’t forget Bazunu, Hirst and Carter worked out, so if they can criticise them for those then look at the other guys they bought in and the permanent ones.

‘A few players including Sean Raggett said it was a streaky season and consistency comes with quality. They just weren’t good enough to reach the top six.

‘Cowley needs to recruit a better and bigger squad and even the same calibre of players like Carter, Bazunu and Hirst, so there will be a lot of strengthening required.

‘Pompey are what they are, it’s all about recruitment this summer.’

Q: How important will this third window for Danny Cowley be this summer, is it make or break for him?

‘It is massive for him because he needs a good transfer window. What’s more interesting to look at at the moment with what is going on at Pompey is the recruitment.

He wants to retain 16 to 17 of the current squad so he wants some continuity, which will be important because when there is no continuity last summer too many players left no continuity there, so he will need some of these players to stay. He also needs to then improve on top of those which is crucial.

‘For me Aiden O’Brien has to stay because he speaks with great passion for the football club, he got it and he’s scored five goals and got an impressive assist.He’s one Pompey should be looking to keep.

‘His quality, what he brings the club, he gets the club, the fans like him and that's who the club should be looking at. He should be part of the football club going forward.

‘I’d like to see Michael Jacobs kept as well because at times he’s the only player that got the team going, his class on the ball and his ability is wonderful to watch. When he’s fit and on that pitch, no other Pompey player can match what he does.’

Q: How realistic will it be to keep those two and could we see Pompey break the bank to bring George Hirst back to Fratton Park?

‘As ever it’s all very well for Pompey to show ambition to get George Hirst, but the player and the other club involved would have a say in this.

‘He has a year left in his contract so does he want to play in League One again or does he want to test himself in the Championship? What do Leicester want for him? Do they see a future for him there or will they look to sell him? In that case Pompey couldn’t afford to buy him. Hopefully they can find a way to bring him back.

‘Hayden Carter wouldn’t rule out returning but he wants to go back to Blackburn and challenge in the Championship and is ready for the Championship.

‘People can’t moan at Pompey for not signing him because the player has a say and the club has a say and at the moment that doesn’t look likely at all. It could change because Blackburn have a new manager coming in and we’ve already accepted Bazunu isn’t coming back, so there has to be some realism in these factors.

‘Without doubt all three have been appreciative of their time at Pompey, have all flourished during their time here and have served the clubs excellently.

‘They’re good lads, treated the place with respect so good luck to them, but how do you replace them?’