Gallen: O’Keefe’s no Pompey reserve

Stuart O'Keefe has excelled for Pompey in recent matches. Pictures: Joe Pepler
Stuart O'Keefe has excelled for Pompey in recent matches. Pictures: Joe Pepler
Nathan Thompson has served his four-match suspension Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey boss weighs up role for returning duo

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Joe Gallen surveyed Pompey’s escalating midfield battle and insisted: Stuart O’Keefe is no back-up.

Ben Close has returned to training following a thigh problem and is driving towards contention against Bury on Saturday.

It is fantastic to have someone of that experience and performance levels to call upon

Joe Gallen

However, first he must separate the Danny Rose and O’Keefe axis which has registered two victories in the youngster’s enforced absence.

O’Keefe earned a recall during the improving Close’s time on the sidelines, excelling upon his first-team return.

Meanwhile, Rose has proven to be a revelation since his re-emergence seven matches ago having regularly been left out of the squad during September.

There will be disappointment as Kenny Jackett agonises over who will line up in the holding midfield roles against League One’s bottom club.

And with O’Keefe having patiently waited five matches to reclaim his presence, it promises to be a fascinating scrap.

Pompey’s assistant boss said: ‘Stuart O’Keefe is a very consistent player.

‘With Danny Rose, Ben and Stuart, we have three consistent professionals and all are very similar in their temperament.

‘They have great attitude, good fitness levels and are neat and tidy on the ball – so it’s great to have such options.

‘I think Stuart has played very well in his Pompey career so far, but just lately Danny and Ben have done so well in there.

‘Until the last two games, Stuart has been unable to get in and it is fantastic to have someone of that experience and performance levels to call upon.

‘I wouldn’t call Stuart a back-up at all, he has played very well for us, but to have him next in line is pretty good going.

‘The three of them are really sensible and you can talk to all of them about football, they are intelligent.

‘Stuart has been waiting for the opportunity, he is very down to earth, very sensible, but he’s here to play – and has taken being out of the side fine.

‘Some players say too much and talk too much, but Stuart’s actions are his words, he trains very, very well.’

O’Keefe has added to his claim with a goal during the 2-0 Checkatrade Trophy win over Northampton.

He was just as impressive in Saturday’s excellent triumph at Charlton, marking a sixth win in seven fixtures for Jackett’s men.

On a season-long loan from Cardiff, O’Keefe initially lost his place through a one-match ban following a fifth yellow card collected at Luton in the FA Cup.

Yet overall he has caught the eye during a spell consisting of 18 appearances and two goals as he enjoys the opportunity for regular first-team football.

In addition to Close’s return, Pompey are also awaiting Oli Hawkins, Dion Donohue and Kal Naismith to return from injury and continue creating squad competition.

Gallen added: ‘Once we get a few people back the competition starts from within.

‘They are thinking “If I don’t play very well and lose my place there’s a good player who is going to come back in and I might not play for a month or two”.

‘Once that happens that is normally the start of something.’