The true cost of play-off failure and Portsmouth missing out on the Championship

We’ve welcomed that familiar sense of play-off failure back into our lives again like an old friend over the past couple of days.

Wednesday, 8th July 2020, 6:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th July 2020, 6:21 pm

But perhaps we haven’t yet quite got to grips with the cost of missing out on that place in the Championship next season.

There’s been many emotions felt in the wake of what unfolded at the Kassam Stadium on Monday night. The anger and apathy we expected but perhaps less so the indifference reported in many quarters, that maybe borne out of limited expectations being realised.

But as the dust settles, it’s the consequences of failure to deliver promotion at the third attempt for Kenny Jackett which begin to become prominent. That, and the lasting impact of missing out on the second tier for a game at a crossroads through factors entirely out of its control.

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The emotional responses to the manner of play-off defeat have now been well documented and the debates over footballing ideologies and what Pompey fans are thinking about their manager will be saved for another forum, because the implications of remaining in League One alone offers plenty enough to chew in.

Let’s start from a sporting perspective and the reality passing up promotion this season equates to letting an opportunity slip which will not be repeated next term. And, in all likeliness, many more beyond that.

The suspicion was there early on, an opinion formed by what our eyes told us and later confirmed by the numbers: this was a weak League One.

At what we thought was the halfway point of an inconsistent season in which Pompey had always looked a top six side and no more, they’d accumulated 34 points.

Kenny Jackett

That number was 14 down on the same time the previous campaign. If Jackett’s men had repeated that return they’d have been five points clear at the top with a game in hand, and 10 in front of third. And that by January 1.

The rate teams at the top dropped points was revealing, with Coventry and Rotherham crossing the line in unprecedented fashion in front of a chasing pack bloated by the inability of sides to put a stranglehold on a division there to be won.

A look at how the division is shaping up for next term, suggests we won’t see such a forgiving landscape again.

Out go a Bolton side long since preparing for a League Two rebuild, along with two weak outfits in the woeful Southend and only marginally better Tranmere. In come four sturdy upwardly-mobile clubs in Swindon, Northampton, Crewe and our Plymouth friends who’ve been celebrating the return of the ‘Dockyard Derby’ in recent days.

Pompey as they were sent to play-off defeat at Oxford United. Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images)

At the other end it’s too early to dismiss any Championship side, with possibly three from nine in a battle to avoid the drop as Wigan’s administration pulls them into the mire. Whoever eventually fall, however, it’s fair to surmise League One is getting a sizeable upgrade from the exiting promoted pair and either Oxford or Wycombe.

Now on to the playing picture, because the amount of change likely to take place on that front in the coming months really shouldn’t be underestimated.

‘I do think we have a nucleus of a good squad,’ the Pompey boss said. ‘There’ll be changes but there won’t be wholesale changes needed.’

With eight players out contract, four loanees departing and the prospect of men tied to the club leaving, that seems to be slightly downplaying what is about to take place.

It feels like this Pompey squad has now come to the end of its cycle.

Within their ranks there are men disaffected by what’s unfolded over the past nine months. You don’t need to be a fly on the dressing room wall to grasp what the likes of Paul Downing and Craig MacGllivray are thinking at the moment. Likewise, how has the play-offs damaged the mindsets of Tom Naylor and Ben Close, as Jackett axed his skipper and totally bombed out the homegrown midfielder?

A look at the squad currently here next season shows no left-back under agreement, and the centre-half options consisting of a player who’s been completely left in the cold and a man with 45 minutes of league football under his belt following a serious injury lay-off.

In fact, across the team it’s only the right flank which looks amply stocked as Ryan Willams and Marcus Harness stay around with Reeco Hackett-Fairchild and Gareth Evans deployable there.

We saw the impact a turnover of players had on results 12 months ago. This one will be bigger.

There’s all of this to consider and we haven’t yet tackled the behemoth in Pompey and the rest of football’s path.

The potentially catastrophic financial impact of Covid-19 to the football business has now been well documented. But it’s the likelihood of it creating a gaping chasm down the middle of the EFL which is of immediate concern here.

The onset of a wage cap in much of the English game is going to leave the Blues firmly in the camp of the ‘have nots’ with the rope bridge to the Championship being cut.

The current proposals are floating an £18m ceiling in the second tier with the number dropping to £2.5m in League One and £1.25m in League Two. So, a 100 per cent leap from fourth to third tier - and over a 600 per cent hike for the next step up.

These numbers are indicative of the ticking time bomb the Championship has become, with clubs pumped up on financial steroids by owners sinking money into businesses making a mockery of profit and sustainability rules and wage-to-turnover ratios topping 200 per cent.

Action is long overdue and if some good is to come out of apocalyptic scenes clubs are facing with their balance sheets decimated, it’s the fact something is now happening - but being left on the wrong side of the canyon when the rules come into play, whenever the new season starts, is now the Blues’ huge concern.

It’s a threat the they are acutely aware of with Jackett already airing a view the plans could create yo-yo clubs, while levelling the playing field in League One for opponents of the Sunderlands and Portsmouths of the division.

Pompey will now embark on a fourth season as third tier outfit, and the fear in the light of events of recent days and those on the horizon is that’s exactly what they will become: a League One side.

The ambitions are there for this football club to progress and find their natural position in the English footballing order as a sustainable and viable proposition. That has to be applauded.

But as the HMS Championship leaves Portsmouth Harbour and heads off into the summer sunset, the very real concern now has to be we may not be seeing her again for some time.

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