Age concern for Appy

The old guard: From left, Kanu, Benjani and Aaron Mokoena
The old guard: From left, Kanu, Benjani and Aaron Mokoena

Michael Appleton has pledged to rejuvenate his ageing Pompey squad.

That is providing he is given the January transfer window green light.

As it stands, the average age of the Blues’ first-team squad is almost 29.

Of those 19 players, more than half are aged above 30.

It is a statistic which deeply concerns Pompey boss Appleton as he seeks to assemble a Fratton Park side for the long-term.

Hermann Hreidarsson (37), Kanu (35), Benjani Mwaruwari (33) and Ricardo Rocha (33) are the elder statesmen in his current set-up.

At the other end of the age spectrum, he has Ryan Williams (18), Marko Futacs (21), Joel Ward (22) and Stephen Henderson (23).

For Appleton, it is essential he slashes the average age of his squad.

He fears the current thirty-something make-up could impact heavily on his side’s progress towards the end of the season as fatigue sets in.

In November he brought in teenager George Thorne and 21-year-old Joe Mattock on loan to pep up his team after speaking of the importance of introducing youth.

Now both have returned to parent club West Brom after their loan spells came to an end.

Appleton already has the smallest squad in the Football League.

And he is desperate to add more younger players to it.

He said: ‘Out of our squad of 19, we have 10 of them aged 30-plus.

‘It’s just getting the balance right. Having that many can’t be right.

‘We have got to realise, having a lot of players here the wrong side of 30 doesn’t help.

‘The problem you get sometimes with that is they tend to do okay up until the end of January/February time, but that is when you need a real squad.

‘There will be a lot of teams in the Championship who will have played the same side right the way through to January and maybe the end of February.

‘If they haven’t changed the team or had the opportunity to change the team then they just run out of steam.

‘From someone like Benji’s point of view, being on the sidelines for the last few weeks actually might work in our favour as well as in his favour.

‘Come the last two months of the season, it might be he comes in really fresh and is ready to crack on and can finish really strong.

‘I look into it a lot deeper than probably what people think.

‘That is why I want the opportunity to get the balance right, whether it’s age, positions, type of personality, youth.

‘It’s not just he’s not bad, he’s not bad, we’ll get him.

‘You’ve got to think about the age of squad.’

With Mattock’s loan from West Brom yet to be renewed after he was recalled to the Hawthorns following the victory over Watford, Appleton’s first-team squad currently numbers 19.

That means Pompey have the smallest squad in the Football League – for the second year running.

Among that 19 are rookie Williams, who has made five substitute appearances this season.

First-year pros Lewis Stockford and Lewis Tallack, who have yet to make a match-day 16, are not included in that figure.

For Appleton, that tally is considerably below his own ideal squad number.

Like Steve Cotterill before him, he is hamstrung by a lack of playing resources.

What’s more, the Blues boss remains in the dark over when he can actually start strengthening and bringing in loanees.

He added: ‘I think you have got to be working around the 22 figure at a minimum.

‘Then, obviously, you have young lads who can make that up probably to 25.

‘Some people like to use 20 in the squad or only 18 – but I would prefer bigger numbers.

‘Then you’ve got better options, more people desperate to play and you don’t get the opportunities for people to get in the comfort zone.

‘Some managers would prefer smaller squads because they don’t have to make big decisions. Whereas, I would rather make big decisions knowing I’ve got plenty of options.

‘If you fall out with a few people you fall out with a few people – but, ultimately, you are the one who has got to make the decisions.’