AFTER almost five months away, Huish Park staged the welcome return of Matt Clarke.
And Leam Richardson was delighted with the central defender’s contribution on his injury comeback.
He’s a young boy who is a man, plays with a good temperament and when he’s at it and sharp there are not many better at our level on the left side.Leam Richardson
The 19-year-old was back in the Blues’ line-up for their Checkatrade Trophy fixture at Yeovil on Tuesday night.
Clarke featured for 61 minutes before he was replaced by Tom Davies in a pre-planned move by Paul Cook and his staff.
Following a persistent groin problem, it was the youngster’s first outing since a 2-1 victory over Wycombe in April.
Pompey went on to lose 4-3 against the Glovers, despite Michael Smith’s hat-trick, yet the re-emergence of Clarke represents a major positive.
Assistant manager Richardson said: ‘It was fantastic seeing Matt back out there, a massive plus.
‘He has worked really hard with our physios and hopefully, touch wood, won’t get any reaction and can go from strength-to-strength and get into our squad.
‘I thought Matt was excellent, I rate him very highly.
‘He’s a young boy who is a man, plays with a good temperament and when he’s at it and sharp there are not many better at our level on the left side.
‘He has a little bit of everything, that is why we brought him to the club, he can defend.
‘He can play, he has a good desire to be better as well, when the gaffer is asking him questions in a coaching environment he has the answers, which is good for a young lad.
‘Coming off on 61 minutes was pre-planned.
‘When you are out for so long you can do as much training as you want, but competitive games take that extra sharpness and extra little bit of desire.
‘You feel your legs the following day so it is up to us to not only get him back fit but also manage him up to match fitness.’
Clarke last season made 31 appearances and scored once during a loan spell from Ipswich.
Yet he missed the five final fixtures through his groin injury, including the play-off semi-final defeat to Plymouth Argyle.
Regardless, Paul Cook readily agreed to accept him in part-exchange with the Tractorboys for Adam Webster during the summer.
It has been a long road back for Clarke, who is widely-regarded as a first-team regular once free from his troubles.
With Jack Whatmough sidelined, Christian Burgess, Davies, new-boy Dominic Hyam and, of course, Clarke are fighting for two berths.
Although Richardson has ruled out Clarke being ready for League Two action yet.
He added: ‘I think it would be tough to get him straight back into the first-team because he has been out for so long, it is up to us to manage him and get him up to speed.
‘We have to be patient, I don’t think you can rush him when you’ve had injuries like that.’