Back to work for Blues as Appy assesses his stock

Jed Wallace, front, and Adam Webster, behind, will be given the opportunity to continue their progress after Pompey returned for pre-season today
Jed Wallace, front, and Adam Webster, behind, will be given the opportunity to continue their progress after Pompey returned for pre-season today

For Michael Appleton, it had been a summer spent pursuing and persuading.

Yet no new signings were expected to be present for today’s Eastleigh curtain call to mark the start of Pompey pre-season training.

Instead, a mix of familiar faces and some fresh ones from the Academy were set to make up the bulk of numbers present.

A few triallists were lined up, too – undaunted by the fact there is currently no opportunity to sign for Pompey.

Blues boss Appleton originally anticipated around 20 players attending the return to the Wellington Sports Ground after their summer break.

Half of them were those senior players still contracted to the club, with no free passes on offer for the start of this pre-season.

But whether the likes of Luke Varney, David Norris and Aaron Mokoena will be there by the end of the week depends on their respective transfer negotiations with interested clubs.

Meanwhile, the tally was also anticipated to consist of Tal Ben Haim – whose compromise agreement stance over wages has been criticised by administrator Trevor Birch during the close season.

Set to join the first-team regulars were no fewer than nine first-year professionals, newly promoted from the Academy this summer.

Ashley Harris and Sam Magri have already been earmarked by Appleton to become members of his first-team squad.

It’s now up to the others to force their way into his plans – starting from today.

That meant the reformed development squad merging with the first-team to bolster training numbers.

A chance then for the likes of Jed Wallace, Andy Higgins, Dan Thompson, Eliot Wheeler, Dan Butler, Alex Grant and George Colson to catch the eye.

In addition, current Academy player Adam Webster was expected to once again find himself elevated into first-team training.

Of course, he is another youngster Appleton has identified to feature in his set-up this season, adding to the three appearances the defender made last term.

And the Blues boss knew such youngsters would be prominent in today’s training return.

He said: ‘All of the players still contracted to the club will be turning up.

‘That will also be supplemented by the development squad, so everyone will be training together.

‘You are talking about us having 18-20 players here for the first day of pre-season.

‘If you look at it, 20 players in a squad would be more than enough, that is a number I could manage with.

‘However, half of them will be young pros.

‘There may also be one or two triallists. Unfortunately for them, we cannot finalise a few on free transfers which could affect how many we have turn up.

‘We actually cannot do anything and that is a big problem.

‘Are they keen to try for a club which doesn’t know when it could put them on contracts? I don’t know.

‘You have to remain positive and believe that when the time is right something will click into place.

‘It’s very frustrating but we just have to keep going.’

The question of triallists is, of course, a precarious situation, which ensures even Appleton cannot confidently predict how many were set to turn up.

Izale McLeod has been strongly linked with Pompey over the summer.

He is currently a free agent, having turned down a new deal at Barnet.

Yet with the Blues unable to sign players, the fear is anyone lined-up may now seek to pursue firmer options elsewhere.

Pompey weren’t even expected to be up to strength in their backroom today, either – the club’s financial situation delaying the potential arrival of Ashley Westwood as first-team coach.

There was a chance the former Manchester United trainee may well have been present as an onlooker, leaving Guy Whittingham to assist the manager.

Head of recruitment Luke Dowling, who was last week appointed, was also down to attend, himself meeting the players for the first time.

And strength and conditioning coach Chris Neville was pencilled in to return, having worked in the England backroom during their Euro 2012 campaign.

So today it was back to work for Pompey ahead of their League One campaign – and how Appleton hopes to have an unrecognisable squad for the first match in five weeks time.