Makeshift defender backed to do Pompey proud

Oli Hawkins embraces Matt Clarke after netting against Crawley. Picture: Joe Pepler
Oli Hawkins embraces Matt Clarke after netting against Crawley. Picture: Joe Pepler
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Firstly there was the emergency call, then arrived the trial run.

Now Kenny Jackett is eyeing employing his makeshift central defensive pairing against Gillingham.

If Oli is asked to play there he will, there will be no moans and groans

Joe Gallen

Matt Clarke and Oli Hawkins were thrown together by necessity for the second half of defeat to Oldham Athletic.

The Blues then fielded the pair in their starting line-up for the Checkatrade Trophy visit of Crawley Town.

It was another run out for a double act the Pompey boss could well be relying on at the Priestfield Stadium on Sunday.

Nathan Thompson is pencilled in to train on Friday following his concussion, while Christian Burgess is almost ready to return after a calf problem.

Should they fail to make it, though, striker Hawkins will continue to deputise.

And Joe Gallen has been impressed with the former Dagenham & Redbridge man’s contribution to the defensive unit.

He said: ‘It’s not as new to Oli as people think. He is a centre-forward and wants to play centre-forward, which is fine, but he has played at centre-half before.

‘If you think about both boxes, he has the size and shape to win a lot of headers.

‘If we win in both boxes and defend set-pieces properly and score off set-pieces, we will win plenty of points in this league and the league above.

‘I thought Oli played pretty confidently and fine against Crawley.

‘If he has to play there on Sunday, I am pretty sure he will play just as well.

‘He’s 25, although we probably think he is 21 because he is new to the Football League.

‘He is a man, pretty sensible, down to earth, level-headed and there is a security and confidence about him.

‘He’s a bit like “if you want me to play centre-half, that’s where I’ll play”, it’s no problem.’

Both Hawkins and Clarke netted in the 3-1 Checkatrade Trophy victory over Crawley on Tuesday night.

Now the clock is ticking to see whether that partnership will be required at the Gills.

Gallen added: ‘Christian is going to be a close call and is a very big player for us.

‘We would all like him to be fit as soon as possible but do we take a risk or not?

‘Nathan Thompson is due to train on Friday so we’ll see.

‘If Oli is asked to play there he will, there will be no moans and groans.

‘It does leave us short, there is no doubt about it, but a few are coming back.’