POMPEY PREVIEW: Whittingham finding it tough
THERE weren't many pundits or fans who did not include Portsmouth in their tips for League Two promotion this season.
But football isn't played on laptops or coupons, or even the terraces where 15,000 supporters still regularly back Pompey, and the 'new' club, now run by a fans' trust after that financial meltdown, is finding it tough to turn expectations into achievement.
Still, manager Guy Whittingham, who completely overhauled his squad in the summer, seems to have the tools to do the job, especially if he can get his strongest side on the pitch.
That's been easier said than done – defender Marcos Painter recently became the latest casualty of an injury list which already included senior strikers David Connolly and Tom Craddock.
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Whittingham has flitted between 33-year-old Phil Smith (Dover, Margate), John Sullivan (Millwall, Charlton) and on-loan Bury 'keeper Trevor Carson in goal.
The back-four has looked reasonably settled, with Frenchman Yassin Moutaouakil and ex-Barnet and Swindon player Joe Devera at full-back.
Bondz N'Gala (Plymouth, Yeovil, Stevenage) and former Hull starlet Sonny Bradley would be the likely centre-backs, but Bradley picked up his fifth booking in Tuesday's abandoned game with Wycombe and will be suspended.
Whittingham recently added veteran Gavin Mahon (Brentford, Watford, QPR, Notts Co) to his midfield roster.
One big hit this season has been goalscoring winger Jed Wallace, 19, a product of Pompey's youth scheme, and he should hold his place with ex-Barnet player Ricky Holmes on the left.
Experienced Austrian Johnny Ertl (Crystal Palace, Sheffield Utd) and Therry Racon (Charlton, Millwall) are favourites to play in central midfield, but ex-Monaco import Romain Padovani and non-League product Ryan Bird could push them.
Up front Whittingham has gone recently with Patrick Agyemang (see Player To Watch) and on-loan Millwall striker John Marquis.
But even without Connolly and Craddock, Pompey also have former Gillingham and Scunthorpe forward Andy Barcham, a dangerous, pacy player who can play up front or on the wing.
Another member of Pompey's squad nearly joined United in the summer.
Defender Shaun Cooper trialled at Plainmoor in pre-season, and Alan Knill would probably have signed him if his budget had allowed it.
Instead, Isle of Wight-born Cooper, who started out as a trainee at Fratton Park and returned there on loan last season, eventually opted to go back there permanently in September after spells with AFC Bournemouth and Crawley last season.
Cooper could be the man to replace Bradley at centre-back.