Portsmouth boss must unearth his own regular centre-back in January transfer window

It’s a position where numbers aren’t exactly scarce.

Saturday, 21st December 2019, 5:30 am

Yet central defence has been identified as an area Pompey need to strengthen in January.

Despite having four fit centre-backs in Christian Burgess, Paul Downing, Sean Raggett and Oli Hawkins – as well as Jack Whatmough closing in on his injury return – Kenny Jackett still feels he needs reinforcements.

The Blues’ back four has chopped and changed all season, with eight different partnerships used to date.

Sign up to our Portsmouth FC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It’s a staggering figure considering just two pairings were utilised in League One throughout last term, between Matt Clarke, Burgess and Whatmough.

Clarke’s summer departure to Brighton has undoubtedly rocked Pompey and they’ve yet to find an ample successor.

This time 12 months ago, the Blues had conceded 15 times from 19 games. At present, they've shipped 24 goals from 19 matches.

Burgess has performed admirably throughout this campaign, propelling himself to first-choice centre-half despite being informed he was earmarked for a support-act role during pre-season.

Christian Burgess has been Pompey's first-choice centre-back this season. Picture: Joe Pepler

Downing penned a three-year deal when arriving from Blackburn in the summer and there were high hopes for him after he caught the eye on loan at Doncaster last term.

He hasn’t played a league game in more than three months, though.

Downing’s latest snub came at Accrington, with the decision made to drop Tom Naylor from midfield to defence in the bleak 4-1 defeat. For some reason, the ex-MK Dons man just isn’t fancied.

Raggett’s been fairly stop-start with injuries after joining on a season-long loan from Norwich.

Sean Raggett. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com)

Although he's been part of the most successful centre-back pairing with Burgess, some sections of supporters still aren’t convinced.

Hawkins, meanwhile, has been transformed from a striker to a defender, but there are question marks over the longevity of the experiment following costly errors against Rotherham and Peterborough.

So Jackett’s is prepared to enter the cyclone of the mid-term window in the hope of unearthing the candidate who’ll finally help settle down his rearguard.

On the whole, January offers an arduous recruitment challenge.

Pompey only have to heed the past two years and their lack of success – think Sylvain Deslandes and Lloyd Isgrove. Both are infamously remembered.

And to strap the Bergen rucksack to Jackett’s back on this already uphill assignment, he covets a left-footer preferably available on loan.

The winter market is profusely made up of players surplus to requirements at their clubs. Consequently, they’ve suffered from a lack of minutes in the opening half of the season and will require time to get up to match sharpness.

Then there’s the possibility of delving into the under-23s market. There’s an awash of fledgling talent whose clubs might be eager to get them playing senior football and enhance their development.

But that channel also has its pitfalls. Could youngsters handle the pressure of moving to a club like Pompey were there are such high demands? Playing in front of a sold-out Fratton Park is an antithesis to a sparsely-populated training ground on a Thursday afternoon.

A third option is to survey the Irish market, so successful for the Blues when they excavated Ronan Curtis from Derry City.

It’s presently the off-season in the League of Ireland and the nature of short-term contracts means players are available on free transfers.

Then again, how does the standard overall translate? Curtis has been a massive hit but can’t act as a barometer.

It’s worth noting that Jackett inherited Burgess, Clarke and Whatmough when taking the reins from Paul Cook in June 2017, albeit the latter is an academy graduate.

Now the manager must find his own regular centre-back to bolster this season’s stuttering promotion push.