For just once in their current League One association have Pompey improved on their January placing – and that was a season curtailed early by coronavirus.
In fact, two of the previous four campaigns have seen the Blues in automatic promotion spots at the turn of the year, with a little fine-tuning required to preserve that tantalising position.
They agonisingly relinquished that advantage on both occasions, last term not even finishing in the play-offs.
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So here we are again – a fifth January window under Michael Eisner and Tornante.
From past experiences, rather than bolstering a squad to fulfil promotion potential, the month has turned out deeply uninspiring.
Since returning to League One in 2017, just four players have arrived permanently in the season’s second transfer window, and one of those was Charlie Daniels.
Otherwise it has been a procession of loans, 12 in fact, with the vast majority barely registering a favourable impact.
Unfortunately, the likes of Sylvain Deslandes, Lloyd Isgrove and Viv Solomon-Otabor are remembered with negative connotations.
Whether it be lack of financial assistance from the owners or rank bad recruitment, January has more often than not signalled Pompey’s simpering withdrawal from the promotion pack.
Which brings us to the present and a side placed ninth.
It’s difficult to define this Pompey team under Danny Cowley. Are they genuine play-off contenders? Or is this merely a campaign of restructure in preparation for a proper push next term?
Many of us suspect the latter – yet a nine-match league unbeaten run has stoked a little optimism that promotion could actually be achieved.
Regardless, unlike previous seasons under Kenny Jackett, expectations of success have been significantly reined in, albeit for one year only.
Tellingly, Pompey’s head coach has talked of January as primarily being an opportunity to reduce the amount of recruitment required next summer rather than strengthening any play-off aspirations.
Certainly he has longingly looked beyond this season to implement a second – and more tricky – squad overhaul as he focuses on big earners and their expiring contracts.
In the meantime, the Blues have suddenly found themselves in the play-off reckoning, six points adrift with a game in hand.
Yet there exists patience and understanding among the Fratton faithful, who recognise the necesessary squad rebuild and removal of long-standing players who have failed to consistently produce.
That’s why Cowley’s first January window contrasts with Jackett’s challenges.
In 2017-18, with Pompey newly restored to League One, it was about consolidation, although uninspiring January recruitment resulted in a slip from sixth to eighth.
Jackett failed to sign the central midfielder he so desperately needed in place of the injured Danny Rose, instead taking youngsters Deslandes and Connor Ronan on loan from Wolves.
Keeper Stephen Henderson was injured on his debut, while right-back Anton Walkes impressed sufficiently to later earn a permanent deal.
In 2018-19, Pompey headed the table entering January and brought in six faces to boost promotion chances, of which several, on paper, appeared encouraging.
Yet Omar Bogle petered out after an eye-catching opening burst, James Vaughan was told to instead train with parent club Wigan, and the erratic Solomon-Otabor was offside against Peterborough.
Lloyd Isgrove didn’t even feature, while the double permanent capture of Andy Cannon and Bryn Morris was blunted by injury.
The league leaders would eventually finish fourth – losing in the play-offs to Sunderland.
For the 2019-20 season, the Blues were ninth entering January, prompting just three signings in Steve Seddon, Reeco Hackett and Cameron McGeehan.
Hackett was one for the future, playing just once, Seddon faded after an excellent start, while McGeehan was solid yet a little disappointing as Jackett failed to find his most effective position.
Still, the campaign was scrapped 11 games early through coronavirus and Pompey would finish fifth, representing an improvement, before losing to Oxford United.
Then, last term, the Blues were second heading into 2021 having led at Christmas, bolstering their squad with the captures of Daniels, George Byers, Harvey White and goalkeeper Lewis Ward.
Jackett didn’t last the season, while replacement Cowley oversaw an eighth-placed finish, having dropped out of the play-offs following a final-day defeat to Accrington.
Cowley is not expected to earn promotion this season, his job does not depend on it, yet he knows an effective window could be pivotal to next season’s plans.
And that’s the drawback – Pompey don’t do succesful January transfers.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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