Pompey’s long-running hunt for attacking options has disappointingly yet to yield a single new face.
As a consequence, Dan Gifford is pencilled in to lead the line for Saturday’s friendly opener at the Hawks.
Handed third-year scholarship terms at the season’s end, the 18-year-old is fresh from last season’s eye-catching 24-goal haul.
That impressive tally consists of 14 in 17 fixtures for the Academy in 10 in 25 appearances during a Rocks loan spell in the Isthmian League.
And he finds himself the only striker presently on the Blues’ books as pre-season training enters its second week.
Indeed, few of the Fratton faithful will have watched Gifford in action previously, having still to make his first-team bow.
There have been Pompey XI outings in the Hampshire Senior Cup at AFC Stoneham and Farnborough since the turn of the year, both of which provided an intriguing glimpse.
Nonetheless, Westleigh Park will offer many supporters a first opportunity to assess the highly-regarded Emsworth youngster’s talents.
And considering the absence of any other striking alternatives at Pompey presently, he can expect at least 45 minutes against Paul Doswell’s men.
Upon signing his new deal in May, the Academy graduate was assured by Cowley that he would be competing for a first-team place.
Realistically, another loan spell awaits to bolster his development, with Conference and National League clubs monitoring the situation.
In the meantime, however, Gifford is required at Fratton Park and will accompany Cowley’s squad for next week’s training camp in Spain.
A stocky, yet physically strong performer known for his hard running and an eye for goal, former coach Liam Daish has spoken glowingly about the youngster’s professionalism and commitment.
Ahead of the current pre-season, he spent time with Fareham-based fitness and conditioning coach Jack Plummer, who has previously worked with Joel Ward and Matt Ritchie.
Gifford joined Ronan Curtis in attending a number of sessions designed to maintain the Pompey pair’s fitness before last week’s return to Blues training.
By all accounts, the boyhood Pompey fan has impressed since Cowley’s men have been back in action, albeit in a squad without any senior strikers.
Still, Gifford is ready, willing and able to pull on the Pompey shirt – and on Saturday you can judge the Blues’ only forward for yourself.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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