Guy Whittingham admitted he is relishing the prospect of some of the toughest selection decisions of his managerial career and told his players: Make it tough for me.
The Pompey boss saw his charges downed 3-0 by Charlton at the weekend but was left encouraged by the performance against a side who will ply their trade two divisions above the Blues this season.
Whittingham is still in the process of boosting his squad numbers.
However, he is expecting the competition for a starting place for the League Two opener against Oxford United to crank up a notch this week with fixtures against Bournemouth tomorrow evening and Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.
‘It’s going to be difficult to choose that team against Oxford and I want it to be difficult,’ said Whittingham.
‘At times last season, the team picked itself.
‘I want everyone pushing for places and I want tough decisions to make.
‘So far, I think they are doing that because everyone wants to be in the team on the first day.
‘But they’ve also got to remember that the squad wins the league and not just the 11 starting players on the pitch.’
Perhaps the most intense battle is up front, with Whittingham opting to pair Tom Craddock with David Connolly against Charlton.
But Patrick Agyemang, Ashley Harris and triallist Ryan Bird – who is expected to complete a permanent move this week – all came on as second-half substitutes in that game. And while an Agyemang and Connolly strike force looks the most likely to start the season, Whittingham is happy with the options at his disposal.
He said: ‘It’s a case of looking at the different striking combinations over the next couple of games.
‘They will all be used throughout the season and you can guarantee that it will not be two strikers playing the whole season.
‘They will all be used at different times.
‘I think people saw that Tom Craddock wins his fair share of headers and can play alongside David Connolly or Patrick Agyemang.
‘We also saw what Patrick gives us when he came on.
‘He holds the ball up excellently but it’s not just about holding the ball up.
‘He can bring others into play, he can lead the line and can take players on in and around the box. He is a big asset to us.
‘We’ve also got Ashley Harris and Ryan Bird to come into that equation.
‘Hopefully we will conclude a deal for Ryan early this week. So we’ve got different types of players up front, which is good.’
Whittingham, meanwhile, is still waiting to finalise a deal for Ricardo Rocha and is also closing in on a deal for an un-named central midfielder to bolster the ranks.
The Blues boss added: ‘We are working on one or two things and we’re hoping things may happen this week.’