Sam Pearce is set to make Alex Pike’s selection decisions even more tricky as he steps up his recovery from injury tonight.
The Gosport Borough skipper has been sidelined since the start of the season with a knee injury but made his return as a substitute at the weekend.
And he is expected to get the nod for tonight’s Hampshire Senior Cup clash with AFC Portchester at Privett Park (7.45pm) as Borough start their defence of the title against the Wessex League club.
Brett Poate and Ryan Woodford have struck up a good understanding but Pearce’s form was a major part of the meanest defence in the Vanarama National League South last term.
Pike said: ‘Sam has had no reaction. Brett Poate and Ryan Woodford have done well so far this season.
‘I was very disappointed with the result on Saturday when we lost 2-1 to Margate but it hasn’t been a bad start to the season for us.
‘So now having Sam back leaves me with a quandary.
‘But he was the best centre-back in the league last season and it was only injury that stopped him being in the side.
‘He just needs minutes now and it is an ideal game as it’s a competition we take seriously.’
Pearce looks set to be joined at the heart of the defence alongside former Farnborough man, Adam Bryce, who has been cleared to join Gosport after Pike negotiated an unorthodox deal to resolve the issue.
He said: ‘We’ve got our heads together and came up with a deal.
‘I refused to pay a fee but I’ve agreed that I will loan them a player for a month free of charge at some point. It’s a good compromise.
‘They were holding him back under the Bosman ruling so we couldn’t register him and were claiming compensation.
‘They conceded 122 goals and got relegated last season so I’m not sure how much that helped his development.
‘But he is one of the most promising centre-backs in the league and is a terrific player.’
Andy Robinson, Ben Harding, Dan Wooden and George Barker are ruled out but Pike has no plans to delve into the loan market.
He said: ‘I’ve got faith in the players here.
If I go out signing loan players, it sends a message to the chairman that the players I signed in the summer aren’t good enough.’
Portchester boss Graham Rix said: ‘Gosport are three leagues above us but our intention is to give a good account of ourselves.’
– STEVE WILSON