Liam Lawrence could take up to eight more matches before rediscovering his Pompey form.
That is the verdict of Steve Cotterill, as he looks to nurture the influential midfielder back to his very best.
The Blues skipper has struggled to reproduce his undoubted quality during the season so far.
According to his manager, that is the consequence of his injury problem this summer.
Lawrence missed the first two weeks of Pompey’s pre-season, including two friendlies, after aggravating his troublesome calf/back complaint.
The Republic of Ireland international returned during the tour to America, only to be ruled out of the opening day draw at Middlesbrough.
Since then, Lawrence has started the past four matches, yet has been distinctly under par.
Now Erik Huseklepp is challenging for a place on the right-hand side of midfield against Cardiff tomorrow after producing an impressive cameo last weekend.
But Cotterill insists game-time will help reignite Lawrence.
He said: ‘I think Liam is still a little bit behind game-time with everybody else, which is why I keep taking him off.
‘He is behind everybody else on game-time. He came back to training late and ended up missing a couple of games in pre-season as well.
‘That absence is just because of that little bit of a recurrence problem which, hopefully, we’re getting to the end of now.
‘What happened with all of that was they were all fatigue injuries when he got to a certain point.
‘When Liam gets moving and he gets into six, 10 or even 12 games this season, that is probably when we’ll see him going to the fore again.
‘He is one of those who needs game-time.
‘He’s strong, he’s built that way. While he can run he’s not athletically built.
‘Liam needs to get them big muscles and big bones moving around the pitch again and I think at the start of the season it takes him a while to get moving again.
‘He’s fine, I have no problem with him whatsoever.
‘But if you probably asked him, he would say his performances have been average so far.’
Lawrence has been substituted in all but one of his four appearances so far this season.
At Ashton Gate last week, it was his withdrawal which paved the way for Huseklepp’s eye-catching entrance for the final six minutes.
Yet Cotterill believes the former Stoke man is steadily building up his match-fitness.
Next week, Lawrence will link-up with the Republic of Ireland squad for Euro 2012 qualifiers against Slovakia (September 2) and Russia (September 6).
That will hopefully provide him with more match action.
In the meantime, though, Cotterill insists he would have no qualms in substituting his skipper if fitness continues to be a concern.
He added: ‘Now I have got somebody else to replace Liam so if he looks a bit fatigued I will take him off.
‘It doesn’t matter whether if it is Liam and he’s captain or anything else. I will take him off.
‘It doesn’t matter whether he likes being taken off or doesn’t – because no-one does – I am not bothered about it.
‘It’s just nice to be able to take somebody off and know he is still going to be able to train on Monday.’