Portsmouth Season Preview 2016/2017

Last updated : 05 August 2016 By Jim Bonner

I am going to stick my neck on the line and make a bold prediction for the 2016/2017 season:

Portsmouth will win League Two.

Whilst it may not be the biggest statement where the bookmakers are concerned, Pompey fans have been cautiously optimistic about the upcoming campaign but I personally believe that this will finally be the year that the Blues win promotion from the fourth tier and in style, too.

Why do I believe this? Here are three reasons:

1) The squad has strengthened overall.

Paul Cook wasted no time in ensuring that his team would be better equipped going into this season after the play-off defeat in May and has signed players of real quality.

Carl Baker is arguably the marquee signing of the summer. The 33-year-old possesses an ability to unlock the most stubborn teams that will come to park the bus at Fratton Park this season and he will score goals. Milan Lalkovic provides competition on the flanks, Gary Roberst looks sharper than last season whilst Danny Rose was a key figure in Northampton's stroll to the League Two title last season.

Paul Cook also has a varied choice of strikers to pick from. Michael Smith offers the "big man" role up front whether as a lone striker or a partner to someone like Conor Chaplin who has another year of experience under his belt and, if given the game time, could score at least twenty goals this season.

Curtis Main and Noel Hunt also have plenty to offer and give the manager options to change the game if plan A isn't working but the midfield is arguably the best in the division and will score their fair share of goals. At the other end of the pitch it seems like Pompey's problem position of last season has finally been solved with the signing of David Forde.

The squad, on paper at least, is deeper than last season's but if there are tweaks to be made then that brings me on to reason two.

2) Pompey's resource advantage means more this season.

The emergency loan system has been scrapped and whilst Cook brought in a couple of quality players last season via this method, other clubs with smaller budgets and smaller squads took advantage of this more often.

Mark Catlin has said that there is money to spend if required and so if the manager can recognise any weaknesses in his squad early in the season or has his eye on a player or two in January when (hopefully) the promotion charge is in full swing then he can splash the cash that other clubs simply don't have.

However, Cook has seemingly done most of his business and there is the feeling that the squad is more settled this season. The gaffer more-or-less knows his strongest team and won't have to rely on loan signings midway through the season to fill in the gaps in the team. Therefore Pompey's squad depth also gives them an advantage over their rivals.

Speaking of the competition, that brings me nicely onto reason number three.

3) The league (on paper) is weaker than last season.

The four teams that have come down from League One are arguably not as strong as the four that won promotion from League Two last season. Crewe and Colchester probably won't make an impact on the promotion race whilst Blackpool are still in a mess off the pitch despite bringing in Gary Bowyer to steady the ship.

Doncaster, on the other hand, have made some good signings and have a manager who knows what it takes to win promotion. However, the downwards momentum the club has from relegation along with an extensive injury list may hamper their chances.

The other two sides that finished in the play-offs have been weakened also. Accrington Stanley have lost Josh Windass amongst others and surely can't be backed to repeat last season's heroics whilst Plymouth have lost a multitude of players and their fans must surely be concerned when they're replacing Curtis Nelson with the likes of Sonny Bradley.

Teams such as Luton, Leyton Orient and Mansfield look to have strengthened but they don't boast the same squad strength or depth as Portsmouth. And whilst York and Dagenham departed League Two there are still plenty of poor teams such as Crawley, Newport, Stevenage, Morecambe and Yeovil left in the division and Pompey should be aiming to take six points from all of these teams.

League Two really isn't that tough a league to get out of and despite Paul Cook's team making a fair few mistakes last season they were pretty close to automatic promotion. However, there isn't any evidence to suggest that one particular problem has been solved and if there is a sole reason that Pompey won't get promoted next May then it will be this:

The back four looks weaker than last season and still lacks leadership.

Losing one of last season's top performers in Ben Davies was a blow and only time will tell if Drew Talbot (or Adam Buxton) can adequately replace him. Matt Clarke's absence is also a problem that can't be solved by Adam Webster now he has joined Ipswich so it's up to Jack Whatmough to step up alongside Christian Burgess.

If pre-season has taught us anything it's that Pompey are still vulnerable to conceding from set-pieces and without a leader in the Paul Robinson mould to organise the back four there's the feeling that that problem won't be rectified. Someone needs to make sure that everyone stays alert as the clock ticks down to those crucial final minutes when Pompey blew it on too many occasions last season.

And whilst Pompey have plenty of attacking talent in their squad the two key players may well be Forde and Michael Doyle. The former is hailed as a good signing but some Millwall fans will point out that he has been in decline in the last two years and is error prone.

If the skipper misses any considerable time this season then the back four loses its main shield and that is going to be costly. Also, at the age of 35 (come this Monday) you would have to question just how long his legs can keep going in such a busy role. It is vital that the captain stays fit for the majority of the season and even more so if Danny Hollands doesn't sign a new contract.

If he does, or better yet, if the defence can keep tight and not give away too many cheap/late goals then there's enough talent and depth in this Portsmouth squad to achieve something this season. The competition seems weaker and Pompey have enough resources to strengthen even further if need be.

There are simply no excuses for not winning promotion this season. Hopefully the League Two trophy will also be lifted come May 2017.