Fratton Faithful Season Preview 2015/2016

Last updated : 06 August 2015 By Jim Bonner

Pompey fans face the basement division of the Football League for a third season but it's fair to say that the optimism around the club hasn't been higher in the last few years since Paul Cook was confimed as Andy Awford's replacement back in May.

Is Cook the right manager to take this club forward? Only time will tell but he's an excellent appointment on paper having won League Two with Chesterfield and by doing it in style too.

Some of the football seen at Fratton Park in the last few seasons has been drab and uninspiring to watch. Hopefully fans will be treated to some football that's easier on the eye with more emphasis on taking the game to the opposition and that's something the new manager seems to be all about.

However, even more important than playing silky football is to win matches and to keep the season meaningful so the fans don't lose interest quickly. Last season started well but it soon petered out into mediocrity and given that promotion is the aim once again the supporters need to keep believing that it can be achieved going into the final stretch of the season.

There were too many occasions last season where the atmosphere was flat or even sour due to the poor performances on the pitch and that is something that has to change whilst ensuring the fans are still entertained also. Without hope of success with entertainment to go with it, there would be no point in being a football fan, after all.

That's going to be a tough ask for a manager who has virtually destroyed last season's underperforming squad and replaced it with a group of his own players. A whopping thirteen players have been brought into the club so far to replace the fifteen that have departed and so they'll take time to gel, especially as it seems like Paul Jones and Matt Tubbs are going to be the only regular starters from last season's side to be given the nod initially for the beginning of this campaign.

Of those that left Portsmouth in the summer Jed Wallace is obviously going to be the biggest miss and losing a player of his calibre from what was a poor team last season was an expected but significant setback nonetheless.

That departure could be offset by the arrival of Gary Roberts who is my tip to be Pompey's player of the season provided he stays fit. His skill and creativity will win the fans over and he will be a key man whether out on the wing or playing just behind the frontman. Gareth Evans also looks like a useful acquisition given his performances during pre-season and his previous showings at Fleetwood.

The decision to let Paul Robinson go could prove costly if Cook can't find a replacement for him as there is currently no defender in the squad with his leadership skills and willingness to put his body on the line.

Ben Davies may bring vital experience to the back four but Christian Burgess, Matt Clarke and Enda Stevens are all relatively young and will also take time to form an understanding of each other so don't be too surprised if there are a lack of clean sheets at the beginning of the new season.

Out of the other players released by Cook, only Wes Fogden and Ryan Taylor are players he may regret letting go although the former's injury problems and the latter's wage demands mean the decisions were understandable. The others won't be missed by many for their contributions on the pitch and it could be argued that their replacements are of better quality but that argument carries no conviction at the moment as in all honesty we haven't seen them play many, if any, competitive matches.

The defenders have already been mentioned but a plethora of new midfielders have been recruited by Cook. Roberts is the outstanding signing but I'm excited to see how much energy Kyle Bennett and Kal Naismith can bring to the team in the wide positions whilst Michael Doyle should be a shrewd signing in defensive midfield. Hopefully James Dunne won't be moving on and can form a formidable partnership with the new skipper even if that is an unlikely prospect.

Should Dunne leave then holding midfield duties could go to Adam Barton whom we've yet to see in a Pompey shirt and Coventry fans have mixed views about him. Nigel Atangana has also been earmarked for that position and whilst he has the physical attributes to perform in that role, his passing ability needs to improve drastically given how often he gave the ball away last season.

Danny Hollands could also play in that position but I'd like to see him play further forward to see if he can replicate the kind of performances from the end of the 2013/2014 season that earned him a permanent contract in the first place. Ben Close may be another who breaks into the first team in the defensive role as he certainly didn't look out of place in the first team last season. 

Up front Pompey have arguably got the best striker in the division in Mat Tubbs. He should score at least 20 goals this season given the potential service he has behind him, although there are doubts from some fans about his ability to play as a lone striker.

If he needs a partner then he could play alongside Jayden Stockley who plays like a younger Ryan Taylor or possibly Adam McGurk who we've seen little of in pre-season but was a key member of Burton's title winning side last season.

However, this could be Conor Chaplin's breakthrough season given how much he improved towards the end of the previous campaign and his performances in the friendly games just passed. He looks like he has an eye for a pass as well an improving goalscoring rate and so I'm looking forward to seeing how much his game develops this year and if he can become a first-team regular.

In summary, the squad on paper looks good enough to challenge at the top end of the division and this time it has a manager with promotion pedigree to back it up. The fact that the players in the squad are talking up their chances is only going to increase expectation and an 8th place finish or lower this season would surely be considered to be a failure.

Assuming that a promotion tilt is on the cards then the other teams that are likely challengers are Luton who, under John Still, have built on a side that came close last season and have made one of the signings of the summer in striker Craig Mackail-Smith. They're my tips to win the division.

Northampton are another team I expect to do well under Chris Wilder's management as he has been shrewd in the transfer market along with Richard Money at Cambridge who should improve drastically on last season. Oxford are also being backed by the bookies despite having Michael Appleton at the helm whilst Plymouth should also recover well from their play-off failure last season with Derek Adams in charge.

These are the teams most likely to pose a threat to Portsmouth's promotion push if it is to happen and so the fixtures against these teams (and any others that may have a surprisingly good season) will be key.

With the likes of Notts County and Leyton Orient coming down from League One, League Two looks tougher than last season. However, one significant advantage Paul Cook has over his peers are the resources he has at his disposal. If Pompey are well placed come 2016 then more money could be made available to him to strengthen the squad further.

Overall, I'm cautiously optimistic about the season ahead. Pompey have a proven winner in charge and he should get his team playing attractive football. There are players in the team that will be difference makers and hopefully there's enough quality to sustain a promotion challenge throughout the season to keep everyone interested. 

The lack of experience at the back and general cohesion of such a new squad of players is a concern and I feel we may need to be patient before things "click" but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic ahead of the upcoming season.

It has been a long time since the Pompey fans have had anything to celebrate on the pitch so let's hope Cook and his players deliver this season and there's a happy ending come April 2016.