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The First Eleven

23 Jun 2013 15:00:45

The First Eleven

Who will start against Oxford on the opening day?

Guy Whittingham says that he doesn't expect to make many more signings before the season begins and loans will be kept to a minimum as the Pompey wage budget is nearly maxed out.

Whilst there may be some trialists who impress during pre-season it's safe to say that the Pompey manager now has his core squad together and will be looking to select a much more settled team this season. But who are the players that will make Whittingham's team for the opening day against Oxford?

The goalkeeper position will be one of Guy's biggest dilemmas. On one hand you have an experienced stopper who has won promotion from League Two and on the other hand is an up-and-coming goalkeeper with youth on his side.

Whittingham has made no secret in the past of wanting to blood younger players into the team to improve them over and so this may give John Sullivan the upper hand in his battle with Phil Smith for the number 1 shirt.

Having said that, it might be better to have an older head who will be better at organising his defence and taking crosses and the inevitable long balls in League Two. It's tough to call, but I think Smith has the edge for now.

Trying to guess who the back four will be will be difficult, especially as there is still a chance that Ricardo Rocha and Sam Sodje may join the squad during pre-season. Both of whom performed very well towards the end of last season.

But if it were a choice of who Pompey currently have in their squad, Yassin Moutaouakil will most likely start the season at right back.

He may be rash and temperamental at times but he's quick and can defend better than some Pompey fans give him credit for. His main challenger will probably be Danny East as Joe Devera is almost certain to take one of the centre back positions.

Guy was raving about Devera when he signed him and some Swindon fans were particularly upset to see him leave. Judging my those comments, it seems like Joe will be a first team regular unless his form takes a Robert Pires-like dive as the campaign goes on.

It is far more difficult to know who will partner Devera at centre back. Sonny Bradley seems the obvious choice given his standing at 6' 5'' tall. League Two is going to be very bruising and there are going to be many long balls to deal with so Bradley is built to deal with that.

However, Whittingham has mentioned in the media that he wants Adam Webster to shine this season and make the centre back position his own.

This simply has to be the season the 18-year-old cements himself in the team if he is ever going to have a fulfilling career ahead of him. Despite his youth, he has impressed at times at a higher level and so needs to show that he is a more than capable performer at the bottom tier of English football.

It will be close but I believe that Bradley may just get the nod for the first-team ahead of Webster initially simply because he has the build for the division.

Dan Butler should be the obvious choice at left back. Whilst he made plenty of mistakes last season he seemed to learn from them quickly and improved massively during the year. He still has a lot to learn but Guy has said in the past that he is willing to give him plenty of time to develop as he could be a great defender in the future, with bigger clubs already tracking his progress.

Danny East may have a say on who commands a regular slot in the back four but he has only played a handful of professional games despite being 21-years-old now, so it is difficult to see how he'll fit in.

Moving on to the midfield and it seems like Ricky Holmes is the first choice for the right flank given how he was in demand by other clubs for so long only for Whittingham to persist and sign him.

Liam Walker would be a contender for that position but may well end up playing a more central role this season and the same can be said for Jed Wallace IF he stays at Fratton Park.

Andy Barcham should start on the other flank given that Pompey are so lacking in left-sided wingers that he is the only real choice unless Jack Maloney steps up and really takes his opportunity when it comes.

Johnny Ertl is certain to start against Oxford barring an injury. He's the club captain and he was an outstanding performer from the Crewe game onwards last season.

His central midfield partner could be Wallace or Walker but I have a feeling it might be Romain Padovani, especially as it seems like, reading between the lines, that Jed is certain to leave for a bigger club before the season begins.

As for Padovani, hardly anything is known to fans about the French midfielder but both the coaching and playing staff seem to believe he is something special. He is certainly one to look out for during pre-season.

The easiest decision for Guy on opening day, provided that both players are fit, is that the front two should be Patrick Agyemang and David Connolly.

The pair had great chemistry when playing together last season and should be more than a handful for defences in League Two. The only concern will be how many games they will play this coming season.

That's where Tom Craddock comes in. He is a talent but has shown signs of bad attitude in the past. Hopefully the fact that he is by no means guaranteed a place in the first team will motivate him to work hard and score goals when he is given the opportunity.

I do wonder where this leaves Ashley Harris in terms of the striking pecking order. Personally, I don't think he took his chance when he was given a run in the team last season.

His effort cannot be questioned and he did have a purple patch of form at the beginning of last season but often he would have no impact in games and he is also currently too lightweight. I hope he can prove me wrong this season but he has a lot to do.

So, that's how I see Pompey's squad at the moment. There should be a few additions between now and August 3rd and it may not be that Guy employs a 4-4-2 system when Oxford come to Fratton Park but this is how I believe Portsmouth will line up.

GK: Phil SMITH

RB: Yassin MOUTAOUAKIL

CB: Joe DEVERA

CB: Sonny BRADLEY

LB: Dan BUTLER

RM: Ricky HOLMES

CM: Johnny ERTL

CM: Romain PADOVANI

LM: Andy BARCHAM

CF: Patrick AGYEMANG

CF: David CONNOLLY

Only time will tell how right I was with that predicton but the season is only six weeks away and I'm already looking forward to it.

Source: Fratton Faithful


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