After 74 days, Danny Cowley finally has a tantalising Portsmouth selection dilemma after ex-Manchester United and Fulham man's return

It’s been approaching two-and-a-half months – now Danny Cowley finally has a selection dilemma to wrestle with.

Papa John’s Trophy defeat at Cambridge United marked the return of Ryan Tunnicliffe to Blues action.

His appearance spanned 29 minutes, nonetheless a significant outing for both the fit-again ex-Manchester United man and Cowley’s playing options.

For the first time since Tunnicliffe damaged his hamstring against Bolton on October 30, the Blues have a full complement of central midfielders.

He joins Joe Morrell, Shaun Williams, Miguel Azeez and Louis Thompson competing for two spots in Cowley’s starting XI.

During Tunnicliffe’s 12-match absence, there have been periods when Morrell and Thompson have also been sidelined.

Understandably, Cowley was encouraged at seeing his summer signing back on the pitch the Abbey Stadium, albeit effectively a cameo.

Pompey’s head coach told The News: ‘Ryan got half an hour against Cambridge and we must keep working on his fitness to try to get him up to speed.

Ryan Tunnicliffe returned to Pompey action on Tuesday night after missing 12 matches through a hamstring injury. Picture: Simon Davies/ProSportsImages

‘In particular, we must keep working on his aerobic fitness, his athleticism, and power, which are such important elements to his game.

‘He’s a bit behind Clark (Robertson) in fitness rather than anything else, but there’s a reason for that. Sometimes it’s different in different positions.

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‘You can bring a central midfielder in and they can go from the beginning for maybe 60 minutes. It’s harder to do that in league games with centre-halves.’

Williams was rested from Pompey’s successive Papa John’s Trophy fixtures as Cowley seeks to manage the 35-year-old’s availability.

He has started 20 of the Blues’ 23 League One matches this season, while also served as a stand-in centre-half in a back three.

Thompson, who recently missed four matches with a hip injury, announced his return by featuring against Exeter and Cambridge United in the last week.

Cowley afterwards praised the Norwich man’s Abbey Stadium performance upon his first start in one-and-a-half months.

Meanwhile, Morrell has played in the last three matches since the Covid-enforced 23-day absence of Pompey fixtures.

Before then he had missed three games through the illness bug which swept through the Blues camp ahead of a coronavirus outbreak.

As for Azeez, he represented the sole unused outfield player on Cowley’s bench in Papa John’s Trophy elimination at Cambridge.

Previously, midfield casualties had provided a starting XI opportunity for the Arsenal man, who started four out of five fixtures at one stage.

He now runs the risk of becoming fifth choice – dependent on when Tunnicliffe is considered fully up to speed.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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