Boss’ delight at Pompey return of Clarke

Matt Clarke. Picture: Joe Pepler
Matt Clarke. Picture: Joe Pepler
Ronan Curtis

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A familiar face among the clutch of new acquaintances inside the Fratton Park dressing room.

Matt Clarke was back in action.

I had never seen an overlapping centre-back until that second half

Kenny Jackett

For the seventh match of the campaign, the central defender had returned in Pompey colours, a presence representing his seasonal bow.

A groin problem had scuppered his involvement since the second pre-season fixture at the Hawks.

Yet Clarke was named in the starting line-up against Rotherham last Sunday for the televised clash.

It was an impressive comeback, too, from the 20-year-old, irrespective of the subsequent 1-0 defeat.

Stuart O’Keefe, Oliver Hawkins, Matty Kennedy and Nathan Thompson made their Blues bows in that disappointing outcome.

However, it was a player with 70 Pompey appearances to his name who emerged as the man-of-the-match.

Jackett said: ‘It was really good news to see Matt back.

‘I thought he played very well.

‘I had never seen an overlapping centre-back until that second half!

‘We were on top and he was coming forward, bringing it out, going for the return and showed a lot of confidence for his first game back, particularly during the second period. It was good to have him back and we just want him to look after himself and stay fit.

‘Before full training, Matt had spent three weeks outside with a fitness coach and at times worked harder than we had been doing.

‘We perhaps could have pushed him forward for Wigan, at times he maybe could have made it but I decided not to, instead leaving it.

‘The original estimation was six to eight weeks, so we could have pushed him and possibly got away with it.

‘But we decided to give him a little bit longer.

‘He did look very comfortable in training, I have got to say that, it was a big indication.’

Irrespective of whether Jackett continues with three central defenders, Clarke is set to keep his place at AFC Wimbledon.

A knock to the left knee of Jack Whatmough has rendered him doubtful to feature.

Jackett added: ‘Jack has a knock and we will see how he recovers.

‘Matt gives you balance on the left and in the second half it was the chance to get him and Christian Burgess together, it looks a good pairing actually.

‘Obviously they played well last year and, along with Jack and Nathan Thompson, they are our centre-back options.’