Pompey finish as they began ... but where do they go from here?
Saturday, 5th May 2018 22:33 by Steve Bone
It ended as it began for Pompey - with a 2-0 win in front of a sun-baked crowd thanks to a Brett Pitman double.
And while there may have been plenty of days in between the season's bookends versus Rochdale and the Posh, that didn't go quite so smoothly, the verdict on the campaign as a whole surely has to be a positive one.
The general feeling among fans at the start of the season was that a finish in mid-table, or the bottom bit of the top half, would be acceptable, given that we had a new manager, quite a few new players and, of course, new owners who were being relatively cautious with their initial investment in the squad.
To finish eighth exceeded those pre-season expectations - yet some will still be disappointed, pointing in particular to a January transfer window when Pompey didn't exactly set Sky Sports News alight with their business.
I have some sympathy with that view and it's only natural for fans to be a little downhearted to miss out on the play-offs when, twice during the season, in November/December and March/April the Blues put the sort of run together that suggested that's where they were heading.
The fact is, however good Pompey were when they were at their best - as in the memorable home win over eventual champions Wigan - they simply were not consistent. They were as capable of turning in a performance like Bury away as they were one like that which saw off Paul Cook's team.
Pompey's final W-D-L record of 20-6-20 sums it up. No team drew fewer matches, and had the Blues turned five or six of those 20 defeats into draws, we'd now be looking forward to a two-legged tussle with Shrewsbury in the play-offs. Scunthorpe are doing just that, having finished fifth with fewer wins than Pompey; Oldham have been relegated with fewer defeats than us. Funny old game.
What an eighth-place finish does is confirms Pompey's significant season-by-season improvement that dates back to our second year in League Two. Each campaign since 2014-15 has seen a higher-placed finish than the previous one - and now the challenge is for Kenny and Co to make sure that trend continues in 2018-19.
Most fans will expect a serious promotion push next season, and you'd think the management and owners would be thinking along the same lines. The Eisners don't want to throw an alarming amount of money at the squad too quickly, but equally they won't want their club - our club - to stick around in the third tier for too long. Four years in the fourth tier was too much for many, three in the third might get some feeling impatient.
Pompey have shown many times this season - not least on this final day, when they brushed aside a fellow top-half side in Peterborough without really breaking sweat - they can more than hold their own at this level. Taking four points from Wigan is not something many have done this season, though the Blues' record against the other sides who have finished in the top six is not great, a 1-0 win at Charlton being the exception to the rule.
So what does Kenny Jackett's summer plan need to be in order for a season of greater consistency to be seen next time around? My son asked me on the way home from the Peterborough game which parts of the squad I thought we needed to strengthen, and I actually found it quite difficult to answer. In my view, there are not many positions where we do not have a quality player. It's probably those where we don't have two that we need to look at.
The first job for Jackett is to establish quickly which of his present squad he will lose. The popular view seems to be that Kal Naismith will move on, but there are bound to be one or two others doing so too. I hope Matt Clarke is not one of them. He is bound to be wanted by a Championship club or two but I hope he sees the sense in having another year with us and perhaps reaching the 'second division' with us.
My opinion is that we have good players capable of a League One promotion campaign in all areas, but we probably need more depth throughout. Luke McGee has done enough to earn another season as first choice but needs competition - whether Alex Bass provides enough of that, I'm not sure. Will an attempt be made to get Stephen Henderson back, I wonder?
At the back Christian Burgess and Jack Whatmough would need a couple of centre-halves backing them up - though only one more would be needed were Clarke to stay. A choice of Nathan Thompson and Anton Walkes (if he can be signed permanently) at right-back and Dion Donohue and Brandon Haunstrup at left-back seems healthy.
Stuart O'Keefe is another player I'd like to see stay and if you had him, Ben Close and Danny Rose battling for two midfield spots, that's a very good start in the centre. Close just gets better and better and Rose has been a big loss to us since the turn of the year. You've got Gareth Evans and Jamal Lowe providing some of the attacking midfield power and width, but if Naismith goes, I am not convinced Matt Kennedy is going to do enough or warrant being a regular starter, so another couple of, dare-I-say, Kyle Bennett types should be sought.
Up front, Brett Pitman - who in my opinion was very unlucky not to win the main player of the year trophy - would be the first man on the teamsheet come next August if I was filling it in. We need to know how highly or otherwise Jackett rates Oli Hawkins and Conor Chaplin, but I'd suggest another striker with a proven record in League One or above would be a valuable addition whatever the boss has planned for that pair.
Overall, I think we need to bring in about five new additions, on top of keeping the likes of Walkes and O'Keefe if we can. That may mean releasing one or two whose departures would seem harsh to some fans.
I can't speak for anyone else, but I've enjoyed our first season back in League One. I've enjoyed seeing us take on what I regard as 'proper' teams - like Bradford, Blackburn and Charlton. It feels a world away from playing Morecambe and Crawley.
Next season, well, we may have lost Blackburn to the Championship but we've gained Sunderland. Oh, and Accrington from below. Meanwhile welcome news of the twin demise of MK Dons and Oldham is only half offset by the promotion to our division of the biggest football time-wasters of all-time, Wycombe. Swings and roundabouts, then, I suppose ... just like the Pompey season we have just witnessed.
STEVE BONE @stevebone1 on Twitter
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