Portsmouth Season Preview 2018/2019

The 2018/2019 League One looks like it could be the most open division in years with so many teams vying for promotion.

Portsmouth have to be considered as one of those teams as they were effectively a victory against Charlton away from reaching the top six last season in what was ultimately a solid, if unspectacular return to the third tier of English football.

Arguably the biggest reason for Pompey failing to reach the play-offs last season was a lack of squad depth and to a degree, this problem has been rectified during the summer.

There is now competition for places in goal and Luke McGee can consider himself unfortunate to lose his place to Craig MacGillivray. Whilst he made a few mistakes last season, McGee also shone in many matches and kept Pompey in games they otherwise would have lost.

Having said that, MacGillivray was Shrewsbury's star performer when they won at Fratton Park last season and seems to be a solid signing. He'll know he can't rest on his laurels either as McGee will want his place back.

The strength in depth in the back four has certainly increased during the summer. Lee Brown is currently in pole position to play at left back and, like MacGillivray, seems to be a solid signing but if he turns out to be a dud then Brandan Haunstrup or Dion Donahue are capable of stepping up.

Kenny Jackett also has three quality centre halves at his disposal. The immense Matt Clarke will play every game he's available for but this could well be the season we finally see the best out of Jack Whatmough after he impressed at the tail end of last year. He just needs to stay fit.

Providing Clarke isn't sold and Whatmough stays injury free then it may be difficult for Christian Burgess to return to the side, but Jackett may decide he wants to play three at the back at some point during the season so Christian will get his chance, but he needs to eradicate the silly errors from his game.

The right back position is likely to be contested by Nathan Thompson and Anton Walkes with the former one of Pompey's most under-rated performers last season and the latter improving as the season went on and should continue to thrive this season now he's a permanent Pompey player.

The man who loses out in that duel may well end up playing in centre midfield anyway due to their versatility. They would likely be paired with Tom Naylor who could well be Pompey's star player this season. Burton fans were distraught to see him leave the Brewers and he has been the outstanding player during pre-season. He should make things tick in the middle of the park and win plenty of challenges, too.

Should Walkes and/or Naylor miss any matches then it'll be interesting to see how Danny Rose has recovered from his long-term injury and how much Ben Close and Adam May are going to improve this year. It's a pivotal season for those two players with so much competition for their positions. They simply have to step up or they'll be gone by this time next year.

If there are any glaring weaknesses in the squad then it's the lack of attacking options out wide and at centre forward.

You don't have to be a genius to understand just how reliant Pompey were on Brett Pitman for goals last season. In all of the top four English leagues, no player scored a higher percentage of their team's total goal tally than Pitman for Pompey.

Whilst it's expected the Pompey captain will bang in 20+ goals again, the other players around him have to step up. Jamal Lowe looks as if he will be a real threat out wide and is the player to watch this season. He has proved he is able to assist goals but this should be the campaign where he begins to realise his true potential and score plenty of goals.

On the other flank, or possibly even up top with Pitman will be Ronan Curtis, a "tricky little fucker" according to some of the Irish folk in Cork when making enquiries about the Irish league player. He is another who has shone during pre-season and could well make an impact wherever he plays, but could also prove to be a total dud.

Speaking of players who could go either way, the signing of Louis Dennis from Bromley is an intriguing one. He has been fairly prolific as a winger/attacking midfielder in non-league but is he capable of nailing down a place in a League One side competing at the top end of the table?

As for the players not yet mentioned, Gareth Evans will be a useful backup midfielder and can still score goals at this level, although it's doubtful he'll be a regular. Oli Hawkins needs to prove he can be more than just a target man who Jackett lumps on the pitch late on to try and salvage a result, too.

The Conor Chaplin situation has dragged and it's understandable that he wants to leave. Physically, he may not be capable of playing in a team suited for more direct football but there can be no denying that, when on form, he can be a lethal finisher.

You have to wonder if the management aren't able to bring in an attacking player whether Conor plays out of necessity and forces his way back into the team much like Kal Naismith did a couple of seasons ago. Speaking of Naismith, he's the only main departure from the squad and he isn't going to be missed after struggling last season.

Personally, I believe this squad of players could be capable of automatic promotion if everyone stays fit, the new signings gel and the younger players' extra year of experience counts for something. The transfer window shuts soon and hopefully the board and the manager aren't left to rue fruitless pursuits of attacking players, although the loan window doesn't shut until the end of the month and some deals could be done yet.

One reason I'm backing Pompey to do so well this season isn't just because of how a young squad has strengthened and gained experience, but this division looks significantly weaker than last year.

The trio of relegated clubs from the Championship are nowhere near as strong as Wigan or Blackburn were last season.

Barnsley arguably have the best squad in the division and the front two of Keiffer Moore and Tom Bradshaw could rip League One defences apart. However, manager Daniel Stendel comes to England with just a season's management in the Bundesliga with Hanover and no experience of the English game and so the appointment is a gamble.

Jack Ross has to clear up the mess that is Sunderland and it wouldn't be surprising to see them suffer a relegation hangover. Whilst they have plenty of money and new owners to possibly buy their way out of League One, their current squad still needs bolstering to win promotion.

People tend to be underestimating Burton because they're a tiny club and have had a woeful pre-season but not so much should be read into that and although they have lost players, they still have a solid squad and manager in Nigel Clough.

The four teams that have been promoted from League Two also don't look as strong as the quartet promoted in 16/17 with only Luton looking like they'd pose a serious threat to the top half of the table due to their style of play and the attacking players they have.

Accrington did extremely well to win League Two but won many games by the odd goal and may find the step up in quality, as well as financial clout, too tough. Coventry will miss Marc McNulty a lot whilst Gareth Ainsworth's gamesmanship should be found out and that, coupled with an old squad, should see Wycombe return from whence they came.

As for other possible promotion contenders; Charlton's first XI looks as good as any in the division but lack of depth and off-field issues could hamper them. Peterborough have a good manager but have lost their best players and have arguably signed too many new faces, so it could take time for them to gel and prove that the likes of Jack Marriott won't be missed.

Expect Plymouth to be challenging again whilst Bristol Rovers always look capable of pushing for promotion until they sell their best player in January, but maybe this year will be different? Fleetwood also have a good team on paper but can Joey Barton galvanise them instead of imploding.

Scunthorpe and Shrewsbury may have made the play-offs last season but both look considerably weaker having either lost key players or, in the Shrews' case, their manager. They are more likely to be scrapping with the likes of Gillingham, AFC Wimbledon and Walsall at the bottom end of the league this season.

Overall, Pompey shouldn't have anything to fear and any finish lower than 6th place has to be considered a failure. It would rile many fans for the Eisners to come out and say "7th is an improvement on last season so it must be considered a success." It won't be.

Finally, here's my predicted League One table for the season. It's so difficult to forecast but I've given it my best shot!

1) Barnsley

2) Sunderland

3) Portsmouth

4) Charlton Athletic

5) Plymouth Argyle

6) Southend United

7) Bristol Rovers

8) Peterborough United

9) Luton Town

10) Burton Albion

11) Oxford United

12) Fleetwood Town

13) Bradford City

14) Rochdale

15) Blackpool

16) Shrewsbury Town

17) Coventry City

18) Accrington Stanley

19) AFC Wimbledon

20) Doncaster Rovers

21) Scunthorpe United

22) Gillingham

23) Wycombe Wanderers

24) Walsall