Following New Year’s Day victory over AFC Wimbledon, Kenny Jackett’s men towered five points clear at League One’s summit.
It was January 2019, the team had occupied top spot for more than three months, after losing just three of their opening 26 league fixtures.
Jackett and his recruitment team’s desire to bolster their strong placing yielded the arrivals of Andy Cannon and Bryn Morris, plus the loan additions of Omar Bogle, Lloyd Isgrove, James Vaughan and Viv Solomon-Otabor.
The outcome was 31 points from a possible 60, a fourth-placed finish and semi-final elimination in the play-offs to Sunderland without scoring.
He told The News: ‘When I joined Pompey, I was convinced we’d be in the Championship within a couple of years, that was my initial thought. I believed the club was going one way.
‘The second season was the one. That was definitely the year we should have made something of it and won promotion.
‘That January, with the results and the transfer window, was the main reason why we didn’t go up.
‘It was a disappointing window, no doubt about that. That January basically killed our season.
‘I remember thinking to myself: “This is the best team in the Championship, I think we can definitely mix it at that level”. But it didn’t turn out that way.
‘A lot of players they brought in during that January didn’t even play, it was such a waste of a window.
‘Every club, no matter whether you are struggling or doing well, needs a good January. That probably makes or breaks your season more than a summer window does
‘We didn’t have the best window, players came in and didn’t play or got injured. That was definitely the year we should have gone up.’
Crucially, Ben Thompson was recalled by Millwall following the FA Cup third-round triumph at high-flying Norwich in January 2019.
Having established himself as one of the team’s most outstanding performers, it was a huge blow.
Meanwhile, Andre Green was recalled by Aston Villa, and Jack Whatmough suffered a season-ending injury at the start of February, as the campaign crumbled.
Donohue, who made 13 appearances that term, added: ‘Ben Thompson was unbelievable for us and the only one in midfield that was mobile.
‘We had Tom Naylor, who was there to break up the play, but Ben was the only one capable of carrying the ball. He was excellent.
‘At that point in time, I’d say he was our best midfielder, form-wise definitely. You noticed the difference when he left.
‘Of those January signings, Omar Bogle was a nice guy who came in and initially banged in a few goals, but fizzled out for some reason.
‘Lloyd Isgrove is at Bolton now, I was at Swindon with him before that. He can be a good player, but didn't even kick a ball in the Pompey shirt.
‘James Vaughan was a great character, but didn’t really play. He’d train at Wigan during the week and travel down on the Friday for the Saturday games.
‘It was a frustrating end to the season – we should have gone up.’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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