January Transfer Window: Defenders that Danny Cowley could potentially target to boost Pompey squad

By Sam Stone

Midway through December is the point in the season where rumours begin to emerge of impending transfers as the January window creeps into view. Trusted journalists begin to feed us rumours of potential players that could soon be walking out at Fratton Park.

Pompey’s last three January windows have been resounding failures. The 18/19 season saw the Blues sign a misfiring Omar Bogle, Lloyd Isgrove (who I am convinced doesn’t exist), Viv Solomon-Otabor, and an ageing James Vaughan.

Pompey should have been promoted that season, there is no doubt about that. These players didn’t replace the quality that we lost (Ben Thompson) and were ultimately the main reason we didn’t get over the line.

The 19/20 season was even more disappointing with a total of two players walking through the door in the winter window – and despite Steve Seddon and Cameron McGeehan both being popular signings, they were not the competent centre-half that was required to replace the seemingly priceless Matt Clarke.

The 20/21 season saw the Blues top at Christmas – Pompey’s response to this was to sign a 19-year-old midfielder Harvey White and George Byers (who hardly played). Given that Pompey are currently in a worse League position going into the January window than each of the past three seasons, the requirement for a successful January is more important than it has ever been.

One common denominator in these mediocre January window’s is that they were overseen by Kenny Jackett. Jackett’s main success came from building a solid core in the summer windows and not diverging from those he had entrusted during that time.

Danny Cowley has managed to get this side to the brink of the playoffs with a side littered with 2nd sometimes even 3rd choice players from his summer shopping list; coupled with a squad still rotten to the core with underperforming, quality-sapped, Kenny Jackett signings’.

Cowley has himself admitted that transfer preparation has been underway for several months. By the state of some of Jackett’s January signings – you cannot say the same preparation was applied. Obviously, no players have come through the door thus far, but there should certainly be more confidence that Cowley will bring personnel players in that can make a meaningful impact.

Even by looking at the players, Pompey have been linked with, there is a clear strategy to what Cowley wants to achieve. Kyle Wootton from Notts County is still relatively young, scoring goals frequently this season, and could be snapped up for a reasonable price due to his current contract situation. The Blues’ boss is looking for value for money, that can make an impact on this side.

Throughout three/four articles I am going to look at the potential players that Pompey could look to, in order to make them compete with the top sides in this League.

Initially, Pompey’s main concern lies at centre-half with Clarke Robertson’s injury leaving the Blues thin in that area. Connor Ogilvie’s recent exploits could be the reason for the rumours of Pompey looking to bring in left-back Nesta Guinness-Walker from AFC Wimbledon. If the Wombles man was to come in, then it would almost relieve Ogilvie of his left-back duties and means he can continue to excel and provide superb competition for the centre-half spots.

However, it would be wise to assume that Cowley will still have cover at centre-half at the top of his shopping list. Being realistic about Pompey’s budget, I have compiled a list of centre-halves from the bottom half of League One, top of League Two that could be useful squad depth for Cowley.

League One is always a tough market to delve into. The best players from lower sides will also command a decent fee. With that in mind, I have only selected centre-halves from the bottom half of League One who statistically look like good competition for our current centre-half occupants.

Out of all of the realistic targets from the bottom of League One, one-time summer target, Jack Tucker looks like the ideal player to provide much need depth in the centre-half position.

The Gillingham mainstay is 22 and reaching the end of his current deal. This could mean the Gills could be forced into letting him go in January for a fee or face losing him for free in the summer. Tucker stands up well to Pompey’s current centre-backs.

This season, he averages more duels per 90, with a higher success rate than any other Pompey’s defenders. He also blocks more shots and averages more interceptions per 90. Tucker would also suit the way Cowley wants to play out from the back, with a progressive pass percentage that is only matched by Clark Robertson in the Pompey defence.

It must be noted that Tucker is playing in a struggling Gillingham side, hence why he is busier than Pompey’s defenders. However, his success rate is a sign that he is perhaps one of the better defenders in the League, playing in a struggling side. Out of all the League One targets, he should be near the top of Cowley’s shopping list.

Another player in a similar contract situation to Tucker is Accrington’s, Ross Sykes. The 22-year-old’s deal is due to expire in the Summer and Accrington haven’t been shy in doing business with Pompey in the past.

Sykes would certainly be more in the mould of Sean Raggett, rather than a ball-playing defender like Clarke Robertson. Sykes averages more duels per 90 than any Pompey defender and is on a similar level to Raggett when it comes to dominating in the air.

Sykes performs better in terms of interceptions, displaying his aggression in winning the ball back and being bold in his defending, which is something Danny Cowley likes. Sykes is a young player, who will only develop further, and given that his contract is coming to its conclusion at Stanley, it is certainly some potential value that Cowley has been desperately searching for.

These two defenders edging towards the end of their current deals represent the best value that is realistic for Pompey in League One. Other defenders such as Bolton’s George Johnston and Conor Shaughnessy are promising defenders, but the length of their contract will mean a decent-sized fee would be needed to prize them away from their current homes.

My final realistic name from League Two would be Cheltenham’s, Will Boyle. Boyle has had an injury-hit season since being named in the League Two team of the season.

The towering left-sided centre-half is coming to the end of his current deal after netting an impressive 20 goals in 138 appearances for Michael Duff’s side. Boyle has a good blend of being a ball-winning centre-half but is also comfortable on the ball.

His goal record also shows that he could help aid Pompey’s inability to be a constant threat from their numerous set plays. He would command a decent fee but would be an excellent addition that would compete almost instantly.

League Two could be a market where Pompey don’t need to loosen their shoestrings as much to get the right player. The top end of League Two is littered with young central defenders that are on short-term deals coming to the end of their deals’.

24-year-old Dominic Bernard from high-flying Forest Green Rovers is coming to the end of his current deal and could be snapped up for a reasonable price. Bernard ranks just below Pompey’s current central defenders in terms of duels and arial duels per 90 (on a similar level to Conor Ogilvie), however, crucially, Bernard would offer much-needed right-sided balance to this Pompey side.

The former Birmingham youngster operates in a back three, much like Pompey, and could provide Cowley with plenty of flexibility when it comes to personnel and formation; much like Conor Ogilvie provides for Pompey on the left-hand side of the defence.

Furthermore, Bernard’s ability to find incisive, accurate passes out from the back would suit the way Cowley wants to play; ranking just behind Clarke Robertson in terms of progressive passes per 90.

Forest Green’s excellent season means that plenty of their players will be attracting attention. Jordan Moore-Taylor has been a mainstay at the heart of their defence and is more in the mould of Sean Raggett, as opposed to the ball-playing Clark Robertson.

Moore-Taylor was highly rated whilst at Exeter, however, after a move to MK Dons, his career somewhat stalled. His age and current form probably mean League One is his ceiling, however, his stats this season at the heart of the League leader’s defence mean that he would be an excellent addition for any League One, promotion-chasing squad.

Moore-Taylor competes with Pompey’s defenders in terms of duels and duel success and outperforms Ogilvie and Robertson in terms of Ariel duels. Despite being a central defender in a back three, Moore-Taylor makes ten progressive passes per 90, which puts him in the bracket of central defender that Cowley prefers.

Finally, Fraser Horsfall from Northampton Town would be excellent cover if any of Pompey’s current mainstays were to get injured. The right-sided centre-half has been a key player in Northampton’s rise up League Two.

The combative ex-Huddersfield man has a high duel success rate than any of Pompey’s current defensive options. Furthermore, Horsfall also has a higher ariel duel success rate than Sean Raggett. If Cowley is looking for some dependable cover for his thing backline, then Horsfall wouldn’t a bad option.

A common theme with all the players that have been highlighted is the value that they all represent. All of them are out of contract in the summer, which means their price will be slashed from this time last year.

Despite rumours of positive talks with the ownership over the transfer situation going into January, Pompey won’t break the bank this window. This doesn’t mean that paying a reasonable fee for a young, out-of-contract player is a bad option.

Photo: Below 2020 Media

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