Why only one man should be Pompey’s player of the season

Michael Doyle changed the game at Dagenham & Redbridge. Picture: Joe Pepler
Michael Doyle changed the game at Dagenham & Redbridge. Picture: Joe Pepler

At the searing height of his agony, Michael Doyle’s Pompey performances were propped up by eight painkillers.

For around three months the masking tape patch-up involved a prescription of four pills on the Friday, followed by the same amount on the morning of a match.

With a broken shin bone and medial collateral ligament damage to his knee, the Blues’ skipper should have been grounded for six weeks at least.

Not a chance.

Pompey’s medical team had feared the worst when a writhing Doyle’s thrashing fist pummelled the turf during the first half at Northampton Town in December 2015.

An awkward landing at the end of a trademark highly-committed tackle had resulted in the weight of the midfielder’s body shuddering down his left-hand side.

Initial concerns from the Blues’ bench centred on a cruciate knee ligament injury, yet remarkably he elected to continue as Paul Cook’s side collected a 2-1 triumph.

Doyle, still decked in kit and boots, had to be subsequently dragged away by physio Sean Duggan during post-match media duties for a thorough prognosis.

He still counts himself fortunate the extent of the problem consisted of a fractured a bone in his left shin and damage to his left knee.

That moment could well have been season-ending.

Despite the 34-year-old’s war wounds, remarkably he has since completed every minute of every League Two match.

Granted, Doyle was rested for the FA Cup third round trip to Ipswich Town three weeks later. Yet he returned for the Fratton Park replay and a 2-1 success.

The knee was the first to clear up, recovering within a few months, irrespective of the continuing exertions applied by the Irishman’s natural battering-ram approach.

Meanwhile, the necessity for painkillers to combat the body’s warning klaxon helped nurture Doyle through his shin distress.

Currently, such pills are no longer being consumed, the gnawing discomfort from kicking a ball subsiding.

He will wait until the summer to undergo another scan to determine how the break is repairing, in addition to embracing the natural healing process close-season offers.

It’s a tale which beautifully illustrates Doyle.

As a man, as a captain, as a footballer, he is an impressive individual.

Today readers of The News/Sports Mail will honour Pompey’s player of the season before kick-off against Northampton.

They have had their say, the outcome of which will not be revealed until that moment on the Fratton Park turf. Neither will there be spoilers here.

However, regardless of that result, in my opinion there can be no more worthy recipient than the former Coventry City player.

He has stubbornly led from the midst of the battlefield, shrugging off the annoyances of a broken shin and injured knee to drag the club into the play-offs.

Not that Doyle would appreciate any sympathy votes, the opportunity to carry out the job to the best of his abilities is sufficient reward.

If anything, his performance 
levels have risen since that Sixfields siren.

When the Blues have required inspiration, it is he who has thrust his hand to the skies the swiftest.

As ever there were doubters when his prolonged arrival from Sheffield United was secured in July 2015.

In the eyes of some, a 33-year-old with a portfolio detailing more than 550 appearances was far from persuasive.

As one supporter put it on The News’ comments section: ‘Too old, too small, too slow and we already have an abundance of midfielders. Thankfully we’ve only signed this glorified bench warmer for a year!’.

Within six months, Doyle’s contract had been extended until the summer of 2017, such had been the brutal strength of his impact.

Dovetailing snugly in one of the two holding roles in Cook’s favoured 4-2-3-1 system, the veteran has been one of the most effective and consistent performers.

Here is a player with an indefatigable attitude to serving as Pompey’s driving force, delivered with a belligerence to irritate the opposition.

He nags, he hassles, he harries, he jostles – both in the faces of the opposition as well as his own team.

Yet a return of three bookings – and a red at Oxford United – demonstrates this is no playground bully content to destroy others’ toys.

Doyle is no one-dimensional spoiler, as testified by two assists in the 6-0 demolition of York, while a quickly-delivered free-kick to Conor Chaplin produced the Fratton opener against Cambridge United.

Meanwhile, that stunning left-foot volley from 30 yards at Accrington will remain long in the memory.

As for the 4-1 triumph at Dagenham & Redbridge, it was Doyle’s remarkable intervention which changed the game in the Blues’ favour. A true captain’s innings.

Of course, others have also shone this season. Will-o’-the-wisp Ben Davies – that other elder statesman of the squad – is deservedly a close second, while Kyle Bennett’s delightful creativity has been pivotal.

Christian Burgess and Enda Stevens also take a bow. Magnificent.

Yet when Doyle went head-to-head with Wycombe’s Marcus Bean last month, it ignited an intriguing midfield skirmish.

Bean was punished in the 80th minute with a yellow card following an ugly late challenge on the skipper.

The tackle inflicted a sizeable gash on Doyle’s left shin, the same shin in which a bone remains broken and should have condemned him to six weeks on the sidelines.

Yet he clambered to his feet and carried on for the game’s remainder.

As ever, the minimum of fuss from my player of the season.