Pompey's Half-Term Report

By Jim Bonner
Last updated : 01 January 2017

Portsmouth's farcical goalless draw at a foggy Huish Park on Friday night officially marked the midway point of the 2016/2017 season with half of the league fixtures played.

Whilst Paul Cook's men are poised for a promotion challenge once again, they're a point down on last season's total after 23 games but more importantly, after yesterday's results they now find themselves seven points from automatic promotion as opposed to the three point gap at the end of 2015. Not to mention that there was also a few tasty FA Cup matches to look forward to at the start of this calendar year.

Still, with just the league to focus on for the rest of the season there is hope that Pompey will improve on last campaign's January and February record which only saw three wins from seven matches, including damaging defeats to Oxford and Leyton Orient.

A sluggish start to 2016 coupled with crucial defeats at the worst possible time (Newport and Plymouth) were the main reasons why the Blues couldn't maintain a challenge for the top three but 2017 begins with two crucial games in the promotion race and due to the large gap between third and fourth, they really have to win them both.

Is this Portsmouth team capable of doing that? The first eleven are weaker than last season as the goalkeeper conundrum is yet to be solved, a long-term replacement for Ben Davies hasn't been found (or been allowed to play) whilst Michael Doyle and Gary Roberts have arguably regressed from last campaign.

Pompey are still lacking some firepower up front (though some cause of that is down to Cook refusing to change his tactics for the majority of 2016) and although Conor Chaplin has improved, the likes of the returning Michael Smith and Curtis Main haven't been able to replace Marc McNulty.

Most importantly, as the new year begins it seems that Cook has yet to learn the lessons from last season that prevented Pompey from being automatically promoted. The performances at Fratton Park when the opposition have eleven men simply haven't been good enough which prevents this team stringing a run of wins together to see them reach the top three.

Still, there are 69 points left to play for this season and thus, if Cook can get his team winning consistently then avoiding the lottery of the play-offs may yet be attainable. 85 points were required to finish third last season and it looks like a similar total will be needed this season, so Pompey will need around 46 points to achieve their goal.

Are the players currently at the club able to win the 14-15 games (with a few draws thrown in) required? If last season's team were unable to do so, it's unlikely that this team can too. However, the squad is deeper which may count for something as the fixtures pile up and January represents an opportunity for the board to dig in and allow Cook to strengthen his squad further.

Chaplin would be the only (realistic) loss to the squad if he were to be sold this month but the money is there to bring in a right back and possibly another forward to join Jamal Lowe in the recruitment drive. A solid goalkeeper and experienced centre back with some organisational skills are also required but that's likely to be wishful thinking to see any of these players arrive.

Overall, this season deserves a "C" grade as Pompey's automatic promotion remains on but lessons from last season must be learned and the teams above the Blues also need to wobble. Should Paul Cook fail to win promotion this season then he may well be dismissed for his failure, and deservedly so.

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