Numbers continue to dwindle for Appleton

Pompey manager Michael Appleton. Picture: Robin Jones
Pompey manager Michael Appleton. Picture: Robin Jones

While the clock ticks down on potential administration, other numbers continue to tumble for Michael Appleton.

The smallest squad in the Football League has just dwindled further.

As it stands, Michael Appleton possesses just 14 fit senior players for Saturday’s trip to Barnsley.

Even then that includes Kanu, whose back problems have contributed to just one substitute appearance since October.

It also consists of two goalkeepers in Stephen Henderson and Jamie Ashdown.

David Norris (double hernia) and Luke Varney (knee) have been ruled out well in advance of Pompey’s next fixture.

Now Greg Halford (knee) and Liam Lawrence (calf) have joined them in the treatment room.

It remains too early to confidently predict the latest two casualties will also be absent from the Oakwell trek.

The likelihood is, however, they will struggle to declare their availability.

It leaves Appleton, who has been dealt a series of tough hands since his arrival at Fratton Park, with just 14 senior players to choose from.

Of course, such numbers can be swelled by Adam Webster and a maiden first-team squad appearance for Sam Magri.

Other academy prospects like Jed Wallace, Alex Grant and Dan Butler have also been training with Appleton’s squad in recent weeks.

Regardless, Appleton’s selection options continue to cruelly ebb away.

He said: ‘We have had pretty much the same team for the past four games, so I am asking a lot of the players at the minute.

‘If administration is going to help quicken the process in terms of a new owner into the football club – someone who wants to take it forward from a long-term point of view rather than a short-term point of view – then fantastic. If that happens and it is the best possible thing for the football club, then the sooner the better because then I get an opportunity to help those players in the dressing room.

‘They have worked their socks off for the last three months without much help to be fair.

‘We have not been able to freshen things up or play different ways and give people opportunities because of the actual numbers we have got.

‘I know some of the players have been through administration before.

‘The last time was in the Premier League but the pressure is on them a little bit this time.

‘We have a much smaller squad than they had last time.

‘We have sat down and had two or three meetings over the past couple of weeks with the players.

‘We have to prepare ourselves for a worst-case scenario and – if that did happen – we have set ourselves targets over what we need to do over the remaining games.

‘But we are going to have to start looking after players in between games now because the matches come thick and fast.’

The requirements heaped on such a modest squad clearly had an impact on Tuesday night.

Appleton’s men were particularly sluggish during the opening 45 minutes against Ipswich Town.

For many, it was a below-par showing which drove home the problems posed by operating with small player numbers.

And although not looking for excuses, the Blues boss admitted that issue had been a contributing factor.

Appleton added: ‘That performance was very confusing.

‘I don’t know if it was two tough away games or three – if you include the Peterborough one – on a couple of poor pitches. I don’t know.

‘Perhaps it was the off the field stuff. Who knows? I hope not. I think only time will tell on that one.

‘But I do think there was a little bit of tiredness, although I am not looking for excuses.’