The Promotion Picture

By Jim Bonner
Last updated : 10 January 2017

January is arguably the most important month of any league season as squads are tested to their limits during winter whilst clubs can sign (or lose) players that will make a significant change in their fortunes come May.

So far, so average as far as Portsmouth are concerned. Luton have been doubled but Doncaster then beat Paul Cook's men for the second time this season and opened up a ten point gap between the two teams which will be virtually impossible to close.

It would be fair to state that Rovers are as good as promoted now and the fight remains for the remaining two automatic promotion places. Having stated that, Plymouth are currently six points clear of Pompey and have a game in hand away at Yeovil at the end of the month.

Should they win that, the gap would be nine points and the prospect of catching the Pilgrims becomes increasingly unlikely. The only positives from a Portsmouth perspective are that Argyle's involvement in the FA Cup means they have an extra game to play and they still have to come to Fratton Park in April.

Given Plymouth's previous bottle jobs it's not an impossible task to catch them, however, Carlisle's thrashing at Colchester on Saturday meant that the Cumbrians still remain just four points ahead of the Blues with a fixture at Brunton Park to come in February. 

In the immediate future, Pompey's next three matches are those are which, on paper, fans will be expecting nine points from to at least stay in touch with the top three.

However, Leyton Orient are a bogey side and seem to relish playing at Fratton Park, Crawley have won their last three home games whilst beating Luton and Wycombe on their own turf whilst Exeter boast the best away record in League Two.

All of a sudden, those nine points that Pompey fans predict their team will take with confidence suddenly become three and with that goes any hope of automatic promotion.

And whilst not finishing in the play-off positions would be a diasaster and surely see Paul Cook sacked, it's worth nothing that Wycombe would leap Pompey if they win their game in hand, Luton and Cambridge would be within a point if they won theirs whilst Colchester and Barnet have put together impressive runs and come out of nowhere to declare themselves promotion contenders, at least for now.

If Pompey are going to keep their promotion push going then Cook needs to improve his squad, or at least play a more balanced first XI with underperforming players dropped and everyone playing in a familiar position.

Last Thursday it was crystal clear to see that Gareth Evans struggles at right back and fans have been clamouring for him to be pushed further forward with Carl Baker dropped. It's difficult to disagree with that notion given how the latter can let games pass him by but being a "favourite" of Cook's means it's unlikely he'll be dropped.

Whilst the manager wants to bring in another right back he surely has to let either Drew Talbot or Adam Buxton go to justify it? The former never impressed when he was first selected before his injury whilst the latter has been unlucky with injuries.

David Forde is another whose reliability can be questioned with the concession of Doncaster's second goal the latest in a list of mistakes the Millwall loanee is culpable for. Liam O'Brien signed a deal until the end of the season today, so why not utilise him and punish Forde for his errors? 

As for the problems up front, Michael Smith's time is surely up after another poor showing at Doncaster. Conor Chaplin banged in a hat-trick against Exeter reserves today whilst Jamal Lowe scored eight minutes into his debut as Pompey ran out 6-2 winners.

Surely Chaplin deserves to regain his starting berth on Saturday, regardless of the so-called interest from other clubs? Lowe has got to be worth a place on the bench, too.

In the unlikely event that Cook brings in an experienced centre back to shore up the defence or another midfielder to bolster its creativity, the manager doesn't really need to sign anyone else as the squad he has at his disposal should be good enough to win promotion.

What Cook does in January, both on and off the pitch, will play a big part in Pompey's future prospects for the rest of this season and if he gets it wrong then he's likely to be unemployed come this summer.

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