Cook: Finally Pompey have defensive balance

Christian Burgess, left, with Matt Clarke Picture: Joe Pepler
Christian Burgess, left, with Matt Clarke Picture: Joe Pepler
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The natural equilibrium has been restored to his Pompey defence.

Now Paul Cook believes the balance provided by Christian Burgess and Matt Clarke can finally provide the foundation to build a promotion campaign upon.

Christian is not a natural left-sided centre half, every time he has to step out it’s uncomfortable, every time he has to make a challenge it’s uncomfortable

Paul Cook

The Blues boss has long championed the importance of a right-footed and left-footed centre-half partnership.

It’s a belief which saw Burgess and Clarke matched more than any other duo last season.

Automatic first-choice Burgess is right footed, as is Tom Davies, while Clarke naturally favours his left.

Due to injuries, the Burgess/Clarke axis has featured in just three League Two matches during the current campaign.

Yet they will be in place against Mansfield tomorrow as Pompey push to break into the top three.

Cook said: ‘I think balance is everything, it is huge, and we have struggled with that.

‘Christian is not a natural left-sided centre-half. Every time he has to step out it’s uncomfortable, every time he has to make a challenge it’s uncomfortable.

‘So the quicker we get Christian or Tom Davies on the right-hand side the better.

‘The most natural thing is when a great ball goes in from somebody who plays off their correct foot.

‘Enda’s left-sided cross against Wycombe demonstrated that, with Gareth Evans putting the ball into the net. People look more comfortable and play better in their natural position.

‘Christian would be our senior centre-half, the one we expect to take control, but Tom Davies can also play alongside Matt Clarke, that balance is huge for me.

‘When the ball comes down the right channel, the right-footed defender will just clear it – when it comes down your left, a right-footer would have to adjust.

‘You want a pass to be a natural one. If you are a right-footed centre-half then teams will show you the left knowing you are not comfortable passing the ball forward.’

Jack Whatmough operated on the left-hand side of Tom Davies in the midweek Checkatrade Trophy win over Bristol Rovers.

During his time at Fratton Park, Adam Webster was also a right-footer adept at playing with his left.

For Cook, it is about creating a balance which suits his centre-halves.

He added: ‘Paul Robinson was right-footed and that was one of the reasons behind him leaving.

‘We had signed Christian, while Adam Webster was coming through, so the likelihood was we were strong on the right side. Instead we were searching for a left-sided centre-half.

‘The reason we swapped Adam Webster is because we got Matt Clarke.

‘It is not a criticism of anyone. Since Tom Davies has come into the team he’s been outstanding at times, it’s just that we do like balance.

‘Webbo was an excellent footballer, if you are more comfortable in possession of the ball it makes it easier.

‘Webbo could carry the ball so even when he was uncomfortable he didn’t look it, even though he was.

‘He would take that extra step on the left foot without going anywhere, so he could disguise it more than most.’