It is clear that, as Pompey approach a busy spell with their next league game being the first of three within a week, the depth of their squad really is stronger than ever.
After battling back to winning ways, coming from a goal behind to see off Cambridge on Saturday, Cook’s squad has demonstrated real self-belief, no matter which players are on the pitch.
Saturday’s victory was not the first time that points have been saved this season; after gaining a point from being 3-0 down against a resilient Morecambe, and coming from behind at Luton to score a last minute winner, the Blue Army really are showing the desire needed to push for promotion this season.
Paul Cook is certainly not afraid to make big decisions and, despite naming the same team this Saturday as last, he has never really settled on a firm starting XI, consequently making the Blues rather unpredictable. The central midfield role alongside Michael Doyle has been heavily contested in recent weeks with the now fully-fit Adam Barton taking the place of Frenchman Nigel Atangana. Aside from this, there’s also the likes of the experienced Danny Hollands and academy product Ben Close, who has already demonstrated his maturity by captaining the side that faced Exeter in September.
The back four is the only real area which hasn’t changed massively since the start of the season, with Cook seeming adamant that Ben Davies and Enda Stevens as full-backs, and the central two of Christian Burgess and Matt Clarke, are the right options to help us get out of the division. Even if there were any problems, those waiting on the sideline are more than capable of stepping up to the mark and taking their chance, particularly as Cook is willing to chop and change his squad wherever he feels is necessary. Adam Webster played a large part in last season’s steady campaign and Brandon Haunstrup looked very impressive at left-back as Pompey oversaw Derby in the first round of the Capital One Cup.
What must also be remembered is that 19-year-old centre-back Jack Whatmough will also be looking to return from injury hungry for a place in the starting line-up. After picking up a cruciate injury against Cheltenham in March, the England youth international is eyeing a comeback in the next few months and could play a crucial part in what is always a busy Christmas period.
Furthermore, the form of the forward players at Fratton Park this season is certainly making up for the lack of goals scored last year as the likes of Tubbs, Roberts, Stockley and Chaplin have all delivered the goods so far. When you have League Two’s top goalscorer from last season starting on the bench in six of the first 12 league games, you know that the strike force is formidable. Special mention should also go to Adam McGurk who has started his Pompey career in promising fashion. The Irishman, who is the one that is predominantly keeping Tubbs out of the team, has scored twice in six appearances so far this season, creating chances along the way too.
Even when Gary Roberts, arguably the stand out player for Portsmouth this season, recently suffered an injury keeping him out for a couple of games, the depth of Cook’s squad ensured that it didn’t affect results. A point was picked up away to promotion rivals Oxford and the Blues walked away victorious after a win at Bristol Rovers’ Memorial Stadium.
Finally, it can even be said that the goalkeepers are well covered. Despite a mini-crisis when, firstly, Michael Poke returned from his loan spell at Eastleigh with a shoulder problem and, secondly, Paul Jones (filling in for the already injured Brian Murphy) hobbled off after a heroic performance at the Kassam Stadium, the panic was soon over. Aaron McCarey was soon brought in on an emergency loan and he currently occupies the number one position between the sticks. Even if the Wolves man is to be dropped to the bench when the likes of Murphy or Jones return, it is simply another option and player to look at. There is also academy keeper Alex Bass, who has been given regular games for the reserves and even made his first team debut at Exeter earlier in the season, giving Cook more food for thought.
It is clear that, by looking at all the options this season, there is no reason why this squad can’t push for promotion, particularly looking at the experience within the team. The belief is certainly there and it seems that the manager has the right philosophy, so it’ll be very interesting to see what the outcome of all these positive factors are come May.