Pompey boss: Rest has benefited Ben Davies' game
A two-game Pompey breather had been handed out to Ben Davies.
Now Paul Cook is convinced the spring is back in the veteran’s step as the Blues head into the play-offs.
Davies has enjoyed an outstanding campaign at right-back, recognised by missing only one League Two fixture before the trip to AFC Wimbledon.
But Cook opted to remove him from his starting line-up in the interests of rejuvenation.
Hampered by niggling injuries and an exhaustive fixture list, Davies was instead reduced to an unused substitute role against Wimbledon and Hartlepool.
Irrespective of Kieron Freeman’s subsequent three-match ban, Davies had already long been assured he would start against Plymouth on Thursday night.
The former Derby player returned as skipper in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to champions Northampton, completing the full 90 minutes.
And, following his sabbatical, Cook insists he has already observed a difference in Davies’ game.
‘Yes, Ben needed a rest, of course he did,’ said the manager.
‘You look back the last couple of months where we have been to Morecambe, Accrington and York all midweek. There have been a lot of games and a lot of travelling.
‘You can even see the difference in Ben in training now, it’s amazing.
‘It is key you can give a player of Ben’s stature that break at what I consider to be a vital time.
‘And Ben knew he was coming back in for the play-offs, that was always made clear, so he enjoyed the rest.
‘That is what managing the squad is about, you cannot have the players not knowing what is going on.
‘We had to have recognised cover in our squad, you cannot go into run-ins and play games without cover, and that is one of the reasons why we feel the squad is in the position it is.
‘Ben has had such a fantastic season, he’s had a lovely break now, which has been great for him.’
Davies has won seven supporter trophies this season, emphatically reflecting his popularity among the Fratton faithful.
There were eyebrows raised when Freeman arrived in January to add competition for the right-back slot.
Yet – aside from his break – Davies has retained his place to restrict Freeman to only seven appearances.
The loanee from Sheffield United will now play no part in Pompey’s play-off bid following a straight red against Northampton.
Despite the lack of action for the 24-year-old, however, Cook remains an admirer of his qualities as an attacking right-back.
Speaking only 48 hours before the sending off against the Cobblers, Pompey’s boss had reiterated his belief in Freeman’s talent.
At the time he said: ‘Kieron has fitted in great, but probably has been unfortunate with Ben’s performances.
‘He’s an excellent player, without a shadow of a doubt.
‘Once Kieron plays regular first-team football he is a top addition for any team, he really is.’