The key position Portsmouth must remedy during summer transfer window
In the second of two features on Pompey’s summer transfer business, Blues writer Will Rooney gives his view on how Kenny Jackett’s recruitment should pan out.
Pompey must prioritise one position significantly more than any other this summer – a number 10 specialist.
In Kenny Jackett’s two years at Fratton Park, it’s the position he's found toughest to find a solution to – despite, arguably, being the most important in his favoured 4-2-3-1 system.
And if the Blues have designs on automatic promotion next season, then it’s imperative that it’s remedied – fast.
During the 2017-18 campaign, several candidates auditioned for the role.
Conor Chaplin, Kyle Bennett, Kal Naismith and Connor Ronan were all given opportunities in the hole behind the sole striker.
All failed to fully grasp their chance, though, with none of the quartet now still at the club.
During this term’s failed promotion bid, it was primarily Gareth Evans and Brett Pitman who functioned in the position.
Before the turn of the year, Evans’ energy and tenacity was a key cog as Pompey set the pace at the summit of the table.
But as energy levels started to wilt over the winter months it was Pitman – recalled after a period out in the cold – who featured in the number 10 role.
At first, the skipper rejuvenated the Blues following an eight-match winless streak which resulted in Jackett’s side falling out of the top two.
His prowess in front of goal played a significant part in Pompey getting their fading promotion hopes back on track.
But the former AFC Bournemouth man didn't offer the same harrying or pressing game as provided by Evans.
And in the all-important play-off second leg against Sunderland, Pitman didn’t offer any real threat – unable to thread through a telling pass or conjure up a piece of magic to unlock the Black Cats defence.
There’s a strong argument both Evans and Pitman were playing out of position while operating in the hole.
Evans has been regarded as a winger for the majority of his career. With Jamal Lowe’s future uncertain, a berth on the right flank could be up for grabs next term.
Rather than going out and finding a replacement, Jackett could already have an experienced wide man ready and waiting to fill the void.
Pitman, meanwhile, netted 25 goals in the sole striking role during his maiden campaign at Fratton Park.
Although he may prefer playing in a deeper role overall, the captain loves nothing more than etching his name on the score sheet.
In truth, the Blues have lacked a proper, established number 10 who’s pivotal to the majority of attacking moves.
Think Naismith during the run-in to the League Two title three years ago. His exploits when Paul Cook’s men won seven of their remaining nine games was nothing but talismanic.
Guile, craft, intelligence, goals and someone who won't mind doing his bit off the ball – a happy medium between Evans and Pitman is what Jackett must unearth.
Some have made the case Pompey already have a player of that type on the Fratton payroll in Louis Dennis.
However, the fact he made just one league appearance this terms underlines the fact Jackett doesn’t regard the 26-year-old as a serious candidate – despite his impressive Checkatrade Trophy and reserve-team displays.
Andy Cannon will be hoping to thrust himself into the frame during pre-season.
Arriving from Rochdale for £150,000 in January, he was hampered by a quad injury and has subsequently donned the star & crescent just twice since.
But with Dion Donohue departing, Jackett may change tack and earmark Cannon for one of the two holding-midfield roles instead.
MK Dons front man Chuks Aneke is one so-called outsider on Pompey’s radar.
Able to operate as both a striker and an attacking midfielder, he’s certainly got all the attributes to make a barnstorming impact.
He won’t be cheap but someone of his quality, which is required, won't be.
Another marksman should also be high up Jackett's shopping list after Omar Bogle and James Vaughan’s loan spells came to an end.
Pompey have a big hitman in Oli Hawkins already, so someone different who has pace and can stretch defences should be the direction the Blues take.
At least one centre-back will also be required, with Jack Whatmough sidelined until December.
Matt Clarke’s inevitable departure should mean two, though, rather than having Tom Naylor and Anton Walkes as makeshift options.
A second-string goalkeeper should also be recruited.
With a year left on his deal, Pompey would bank a fee for the ex-Spurs man.
The highly-rated Alex Bass needs to go out on loan and gain regular minutes.
While he’d be a sound option as a No2 to Craig MacGillivray, the academy graduate needs to start cutting his teeth.