MICHAEL APPLETON believes Pompey are finally getting Jon Harley at his best after unleashing him in a more advanced role.
And the Blues boss has pledged to keep the former Chelsea man in his new midfield spot.
Harley was Appleton’s regular left-back at the beginning of the season, starting the first 10 matches of the campaign in that position.
However, he has taken on a midfield mantle during the past five league matches.
The 33-year-old netted his maiden Pompey goal in Tuesday night’s 2-1 defeat at Stevenage – three years to the day since he last scored.
Appleton believes Harley is thriving, having been asked to play higher up the pitch.
And he is adamant the summer recruit is starting to produce his most impressive form for the club.
He said: ‘In Jon’s defence, the last couple of years he has spent his time playing higher up the pitch anyway.
‘He wasn’t in my thoughts initially to come in and be a left-back – circumstances made that happen.
‘What he has got is a lot of quality in terms of where he has been brought up from in Chelsea and is comfortable in possession.
‘His legs are not as strong as what they were six, seven or eight years ago but I think he suits playing a little bit higher up the pitch.
‘Sometimes when he’s playing left-back he plays like he is playing left midfield or in the middle of the park.
‘He takes too many chances at times and looks to find a pass which really isn’t on as a full-back.
‘We spoke about that and that is why he is now playing higher up the pitch.
‘He is more effective and, because his legs are not as strong as they used to be, if he gets isolated in a one-versus-one situation as a full-back, it’s a little bit different than if you do as a wide player.
‘Against Stevenage he scored a good goal. He got into that area two or three times previously but made poor decisions.
‘Luckily, he made a good decision and went on the half turn and produced a good finish. Jon’s doing great for us.’
Harley has now made 16 appearances since signing for Pompey in the summer. The Lamex Stadium was arguably his finest Blues performance to date.
But Appleton believes there is still plenty of room for improvement from the left-sided player.
He added: ‘With Jon being left-sided and naturally left-footed, he gets an opportunity to put crosses into the box.
‘I didn’t think we did that enough on Tuesday night, I have got to say.
‘It wasn’t just him, to be fair. We got in really good wide positions and tried to overplay at times instead of putting it in there, especially on a surface like that which was wet.
‘But I can’t be too critical because we were done by two poor goals.’