Pompey agonise over Walkes’ midfield replacement

Anton Walkes is out injured. Picture: Joe Pepler
Anton Walkes is out injured. Picture: Joe Pepler
Kenny Jackett. Picture: Joe Pepler

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POMPEY are weighing up the midfield enforcer to cover Anton Walkes’ injury absence.

The Spurs loanee has been ruled out of the next three matches after sustaining a hamstring strain at Rochdale.

Kenny has a number of options to choose from and it is healthy

Joe Gallen

That leaves Kenny Jackett agonising over Walkes’ replacement as the holding midfielder to screen his back four.

According to Joe Gallen, the likes of Stuart O’Keefe, Connor Ronan, Ben Close and Dion Donohue all come into the reckoning.

And with Saturday’s crucial trip to Plymouth looming, the Blues’ management continue to mull over the ideal candidate.

Pompey’s assistant boss said: ‘From a personal point of view, it is disappointing for Anton to be injured, but I just know we have players capable of playing in that role and playing it well.

‘Ben Close and Stuart O’Keefe, for example, can definitely go in there and play.

‘Also vying for that place is Connor Ronan, who is not as experienced but a very good player, and we’ve put Dion Donohue in there for a couple of games before.

‘There are a number of options. We could also rearrange and change the formation around a little to suit what we’ve got and the opposition, there are a few decisions to be made in the next few days.

‘If O’Keefe gets his chance I am sure he will take it with both hands, while since Connor’s come from Wolves he’s impressed everyone with his football and intelligence and could easily come in.

‘If Dion plays in there he has a left foot which others don’t and gives us a nice balance. We think he is capable of playing in midfield and capable of scoring from midfield if given a run at it.

‘That would mean Brandon, who played very well against Oldham and Wigan, coming in at left-back.

‘Kenny has a number of options to choose from and it is healthy.

‘Whoever gets the slot, I just know we have enough fit players with enough quality and belief that we can go to Plymouth and put in a good performance.’

O’Keefe’s timely re-emergence surely puts him at the head of the list to replace Walkes.

He featured for 30 minutes from the bench in last weekend’s 3-3 draw at Rochdale.

And Gallen believes the 27-year-old is ready to start – if called upon.

He added: ‘O’Keefe came on at Rochdale and had a galvanizing effect, which he tends to do with fellow players and the crowd.

‘He is one of those players who make everyone around him play a little better, has a good energy about him and is a very good professional.

‘I think he is ready to start, it was important he got on last weekend.

‘Stuart has been training well as always, with plenty of enthusiasm, aggression and talking, all the things he brings.

‘But it’s not the same as getting out there properly, he now feels he is ready to start.’