Paul Cook’s Pompey defensive dilemma

Christian Burgess. Picture: Joe Pepler
Christian Burgess. Picture: Joe Pepler
  • Burgess has made 24 appearances since joining from Peterborough in the summer
  • Matt Clarke and Adam Webster have been in the centre of Pompey’s defence for the last four Leage Two fixtures

The dress rehearsal reaped a glorious FA Cup upset over Ipswich Town.

Now the eagerly-anticipated visit of Oxford United is here – accompanied by a defensive dilemma for Paul Cook.

Matt Clarke has been fantastic, for an 18-year-old he is a man, and how he prepares is superb

Leam Richardson

The triumph over the Tractor Boys marked Christian Burgess’ first game in six matches following an ankle ligament injury.

With Matt Clarke unable to face his parent club and Adam Barton required in midfield, it was an obvious selection for the Pompey boss.

Before his enforced absence, Burgess had been an ever-present for the Blues in League Two, amassing 23 appearances in total.

With the door open again, Clarke became Adam Webster’s central defensive partner, once more impressing with his first-team contribution.

The re-emergence of Burgess, however, has left Cook weighing up which of the trio to leave out against the U’s tomorrow.

And Leam Richardson recognises the selection difficulty for what is anticipated to be a Fratton Park sell-out.

Pompey’s assistant boss said: ‘Christian had a bit of cramp against Ipswich because of the pace of the game.

‘It was great to have him back, though, he’s not a good spectator! He was playing very well before getting injured and was unlucky to miss a few games from an innocuous challenge.

‘So to see him back on the pitch was very pleasing – and he is ready.

‘He knows how we play, knows how we want to play, he’s a big character for us in the dressing room, on the training pitch and out there on a Saturday, so the quicker he gets up to speed the better for us.

‘He has been working tirelessly hard and had a week or so training and pushed himself, so the manager wanted to give him minutes on Tuesday.

‘Christian possibly had a few more minutes than we would have liked, but it’s so important to give the fans every last breath – and he certainly did that.

‘You look at the options now for Oxford, decisions have to be made.

‘Matt Clarke has been fantastic, for an 18-year-old he is a man, and how he prepares is superb.

‘The biggest compliment I can say is if you watch the likes of Matt and Adam Webster from Monday to Friday and see how they prepare for a Saturday game you would think they are aged 30-plus, it’s great credit to them.

‘Adam Barton has stepped in there and performed really well, Jack Whatmough is now getting up to speed and you can see his feet getting faster and faster and his physical side of the game and movement getting better and better.

‘Thankfully we have some good youthful centre halves at the club at the minute.’

Ipswich also represented Michael Doyle’s return from a knee problem.

And Pompey’s skipper is in the frame to face Michael Appleton’s third-placed side.

Richardson added: ‘The skipper wants to play every minute of every game.

‘You can’t keep him off the training pitch, you can’t keep him of the pitch, he’s a senior player for us and fingers crossed we can keep him fit and have a good push.’