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Danny Cowley interview: Portsmouth promotion hopes, Gavin Bazunu and Miguel Azeez | Football News


Wind back to mid-October. Portsmouth had just been beaten 4-0 at home by Ipswich, they had just one win in 10 games and had slumped to 17th in the League One table.

Danny Cowley had only been in charge since March, but the pressure was building. A club the size of Portsmouth needs to, at least, be challenging for the play-offs at this level. The problem is, in this hyper-competitive third-tier campaign, there are eight or nine other clubs that feel the same.

It shows how quickly things can change that one of those clubs in Ipswich, the side that trounced them at Fratton Park, have since dispensed with their manager. Cowley knows the nature of the business, but Portsmouth’s turn in form since – which has led to a rise up the table and a Sky Bet November Manager of the Month award – shows that sometimes calm heads and patience pays off.

“People from the outside looking in may have a different perspective, but inside the club we understand we’re in a transitional period and we understand where we’re at in our journey, and what we’re trying to achieve in the long term as a football club,” Cowley tells Sky Sports.

“There was a lot of change in the summer, more than we perhaps anticipated. But we are trying to implement a way of playing that can be a blueprint for this club moving forward.

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Highlights of the Sky Bet League One match between Portsmouth and Morecambe.

“We had a really difficult October. It’s been well-documented that we have had injury after injury, illness and unavailability. It’s been a real challenge. We had to switch from a back four to a back three, as we were using midfielders and full-backs in those positions.

“We had a period where it was difficult for us, but we stayed together and stayed focused. I’m really proud of the players, who showed so much resilience and determination to get through that period and respond in the way that they did.

“We have been able to find solutions rather than excuses.”

Some of those solutions have been to utilise young loan players from elite Premier League clubs. One of those youngsters is goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu. Just 19 and on loan from Manchester City. He is already a Republic of Ireland international and has been Pompey’s first-choice stopper this season.

Image:
Gavin Bazunu has impressed in goal

Another, Miguel Azeez, is a promising young midfielder who joined from Arsenal. Also 19, this is his first stint in senior football. It took him a little while to break into the first-team picture this season, but has slowly carved himself out a place in the side. Cowley is a huge fan of both young men, admiring their workrate and desire to learn as much as their natural ability.

“Gavin can be whatever he wants to be,” says Cowley. “He’s an outstanding goalkeeper and an even better human being. He has an elite mindset and is so focused and driven.

“He wakes up every day wanting to improve, and it’s been a pleasure and a privilege to have him with us in this short period. We look forward to him continuing to do really well for us and himself, and we’re so excited for his future.

“Gavin was at Rochdale last season so he’s had a bit more experience. For Miguel it’s his first loan. He is gaining experience by the day and it’s been a brilliant stepping stone for him in his education. This is what young players need. They need to be exposed to first-team football.

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Miguez Azeez has broken into the Portsmouth side recently

“A lot of these elite young players have only known success after success because they were often the best players in their youth careers and in age-group football. It’s great for them to come out on loan into senior football for the first time where they don’t always get it all their own way. It develops their coping strategies and their resilience to go on and really push on in their careers.

“His technical ability and his athleticism will give him every opportunity to have a great career. He’s done really, really well. He’s another one who is incredibly driven, with an outstanding level of focus and he’s a student of the game.

“He always wants to learn, develop and improve. He’s fought his way into the team, and good on him.”

Whether those two, amongst others, can help Portsmouth continue to kick on up the table remains to be seen.

The current top half of League One is something of a who’s who of former Premier League clubs, and recently-relegated Championship sides that know what it takes to get out of this league.

Cowley hopes that if their availability problems are behind them, and if they can add a few in January, then it could be a season to remember for Portsmouth and their fans.

“I think League One this season is the most competitive that I’ve known it,” he says. “There are a lot of well-supported clubs, and well-financed clubs with new owners.

“Historically I’ve always thought there was a big gap between League One and the Championship, and probably in recent times we’ve seen how hard it is for some clubs going up to stay up. But this year I think the teams that go up will be in a position to compete next season.

“Anyone can beat anyone on any given day, so you just have to turn up and be the best version of yourselves. We’re a new group. I’ve only been here since March, and we’ve only had one summer window, which was very difficult with very little player availability. We’re a work in progress and you only have two periods a year to properly recruit and add to your squad.

“January is a difficult window, but we need to keep moving in the right direction. If we can bring in three or four to compliment what we already have, then that will really help us.”

Even if it doesn’t work out quite how they would like this season, under Cowley you still believe Portsmouth are back on the right path.





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