Ever since focus turned to the summer transfer window – and even before the final ball of the 2021-22 season was kicked – it was made clear that retaining the majority of the existing playing staff at Fratton Park was essential moving forward.
The foundations of a promotion-winning side are already in place, we’ve been led to believe.
All that’s needed is the extra quality that sits on top of that underpinning to make it work.
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Making strong those foundations, therefore, explains the Blues’ determination and success in retaining the services of the likes of Sean Raggett, Michael Jacobs and to a lesser extent Reeco Hackett before the transfer window officially opened on June 10.
Activating the clauses on the contracts of Marcus Harness, Louis Thompson, Jay Mingi and Jayden Reid was less taxing. But it still needed to be done.
It now leaves Cowley with a first-team squad of 17 players, which includes Harry Jewitt-White, as the Blues prepare for their first day back on June 20.
That’s a healthier state than the one the Blues boss found himself in this time last year, with triallists aplenty drafted in to make up the numbers after the axe was wielded.
But this reliance on continuity has its flaws.
Namely, the foundations that currently exist are of a side that finished 10th last season. Not outside the top two, not a team worthy of a play-off place, not a side who just missed out on a top six finish – but mid-table.
Secondly, the players who arguably catapulted the Blues to such a position – loanees Gavin Bazunu, Hayden Carter and 15-goal top scorer George Hirst – are gone and likely never to return.
And that’s why Pompey’s over-reliance on continuity this summer could be a dangerous tactic.
Not only does it rely on the current crop – which could feasibly also be without both Ronan Curtis and Marcus Harness come September – vastly improving on their performances and consistency levels from last term, it also puts added pressure on Cowley getting it right in the transfer window.
For every Bazunu, there’s a Miguel Azeez or Tyler Walker.
So finding players better than the Irishman, Carter and Hirst – either on loan or on permanent deals – will be exceedingly tough.
A job made even more harder by the financial parameters Cowley can operate under, which, let’s be honest, is a subtle reference to the terms offered to out-of-contract Aiden O’Brien!
Of course, there are counter arguments.
While Pompey finished 10th, two of their wins at the tail end of the season came against automatic promotion winners Wigan and Rotherham, when eight of the starting XI on each occasion were permanent Blues players. Proof that the foundations in place are good enough.
Meanwhile, with players such as John Marquis, Ellis Harrison, Paul Downing and Callum Johnson off the books completely now, Cowley finally has the financial capability to go after the players he really wants – like Marlon Pack.
Yet, the fact Pompey have been unable to make any real inroads on recruitment this summer so far suggests that luring such top-notch targets who will improve the quality on offer remains a battle.
Oh, and, let’s not forget that eight of the side that started the 4-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday on the final day fall into the continuity category.
Lincoln are a good example of a side who found themselves in Pompey’s position last summer.
Their brush with promotion during the 2020-21 season came with an over-reliance on loanees such as Alex Palmer, Morgan Rogers and Brennan Johnson.
Their subsequent inability to replace that quality saw them finish last tern in 17th place – one year after contesting the League One play-off final.
Yet at least that 2020-21 Imps squad reached Wembley, narrowly losing out to Blackpool after finishing fifth.
Pompey head back to pre-season next week on the back of a 10th-placed finish.
And with the quality of League One teams and their spending power rising incrementally each year, that key point rather than continuity can’t be emphasised enough.