Jack Whatmough is set to make his first start in over nine months as the Hawks take on AFC Portchester in the Hampshire Senior Cup at Wicor Rec (7.45pm).
The on-loan Pompey defender, who suffered a knee injury playing for the Blues against Cheltenham Town last March, is continuing his rehabilitation during a month’s stay at the National League South club.
So far he has made two brief appearances as a substitute for Lee Bradbury’s side.
But both Pompey and the Hawks feel Whatmough is now ready to start games.
‘This is a big moment for Jack because he has had a long nine month wait for this,’ said Lee Bradbury.
‘He came through his two substitute appearances well and feels ready to push on.
‘In both games he looked strong and comfortable on the ball.
‘It is now time for him to get longer minutes under his belt and getting used to making tackles and recovery runs when he is tired.
‘When we feel he has had enough then we will protect him and bring him off the pitch.’
In his two Hawks outings from the bench to date, Whatmough has played just in front of the back four.
Bradbury intends to start him in his more accustomed position in the centre of the defence.
But the Westleigh Park boss admits he faces a difficult juggling act in selecting his team for tonight’s cup tie.
He knows his side face a crucial relegation six-pointer against Basingstoke Town on Saturday and wants to ensure he can field his strongest team for that fixture.
It remains to be seen how many of his senior players he is willing to risk just three days ahead of that test.
Bradbury said: ‘The league is our bread and butter and I can’t afford to take too many risks.
‘At the same time we want to win the Hampshire Senior Cup, so it is a question of trying to get the balance right.
‘We won’t be taking Portchester lightly because they are a hard-working team with lots of good players.
‘This will be like their cup final and so they will be well up for it.
‘I will be making changes to the starting line-up but the team we send out should be good enough to win the game.’
Bradbury has to decide whether to rest key players like Ryan Young, Brian Stock, Scott Donnelly and James Hayter.
There are options available, with a number of players currently on the fringes of the squad set to be given another chance.
This could see young goalkeeper Charlie Searle, defenders Dan Blanchett and Warren Cummings, midfielder Jake Thomson, along with striker Marvin Morgan being recalled.
AFC Portchester will be relishing the chance to take another major scalp in the competition, having already knocked out holders Gosport Borough.
Manager Graham Rix, however, will have to do without latest recruit Steve Ramsey who is cup-tied.