Matt Clarke has hit the Pompey comeback trail.
And the central defender has been pencilled in for a return against Yeovil Town in next week’s Checkatrade Trophy fixture.
If Matt doesn’t have any set-backs now I expect him to be training with the group maybe next weekIan Foster
Ongoing groin problems have condemned Clarke to the sidelines since the 2-1 win over Wycombe on April 23.
During that period the 19-year-old joined the Blues permanently as part of the deal which took Adam Webster to Ipswich Town.
Crucially, Saturday represented the first occasion Clarke’s training involved contact.
It signifies the latest hurdle safely negotiated as Pompey usher him towards a first-team return.
And coach Ian Foster believes there remains an outside chance the defender could be ready for next Tuesday’s trip to Yeovil.
He said: ‘I don’t think Matt is too far away.
‘If he doesn’t have any set-backs now I expect him to be training with the group maybe next week.
‘What has happened is the carrot of Yeovil has been dangled before him.
‘If he didn’t make it, it wouldn’t be too disappointing but if he did it would be a lift for him, the medical staff and the whole football club.
‘Matt trained on Saturday morning in a football session – the first time involving contact – and to my knowledge came through that well.
‘He was back with the physios on Monday carrying out strength and conditioning.
‘However, he has not got into any long-range kicking, which will be the last thing he does because it will be the toughest of all for him bearing in mind it is a long-standing groin issue.
‘Matt’s such an important player it will be great for him to get back in the fold and push for a first-team place.’
Clarke enjoyed a successful loan spell at Fratton Park last season, making 33 appearances and scoring once.
Yet injury ruled him out of the final five matches, a period which included the play-off semi-final defeat to Plymouth.
That absence did not deter Paul Cook signing the teenager on a permanent basis to challenge for a central defensive spot alongside Christian Burgess.
In Clarke’s absence, Adam Barton has established himself as an option, while Tom Davies has arrived from Accrington Stanley.
But Foster is looking forward to welcoming him back.
He added: ‘We have really missed Matt.
‘He was out for a long time at the back end of last season, missing some big games for us.
‘He has not trained with any great deal of consistency since April, so while his fitness levels are good, his football fitness levels wouldn’t be great.
‘But the fact we are still in the Premier League Cup means there are more games of football ahead and hopefully he can be involved in one or two of those.’