The challenge Portsmouth have to overcome to continue their charge up League One table
If you had to pick Pompey’s current top league appearance maker back in August, it’s likely a few names would’ve rolled off the tongue before Christian Burgess got a mention.
Yet, as we head into the festive period which brings up the season’s halfway point it’s the Blues’ great survivor who leads the way on the league minutes clocked up this term.
It’s the long-serving defender who’s been the constant in a back line which has chopped, changed and bears little resemblance to how many of us anticipated it would look amid Kenny Jackett’s summer squad reshaping.
If anyone had called a back four with Oli Hawkins in it and Brandon Haunstrup at right-back in August they would have been told that’s up there with one of Barry Harris’ worst jokes.
James Bolton, Paul Downing, Sean Raggett and Lee Brown looked the four first-choice starters.
Asked the same question now and only the vice-captain at left-back would likely be in Jackett’s fancied quartet from that bunch.
It’s testament to Burgess’ ongoing resolve that he’s come through the challenges posed in his four years at Fratton to have featured in every League One encounter to date, with all except one as starts.
In fact, it’s only the EFL Trophy games which has seen the 28-year-old rested to date.
So an enforced absence at Accrington as a result of collecting a fifth caution just before the cut-off point for suspensions is raised to 10 yellows, can justifiably be seen as a blow for Pompey as they bid to continue the form we’ve been waiting for this term.
And the fact the news was greeted with a degree of concern over the void he will leave is again a compliment to how Burgess has played his part in trying to keep a defence in transition together.
Yes, there will always be those who have a degree of concern over how the former Peterborough man deals with physical challenges, as a couple of bustling non-league strikers have shown in recent FA Cup tests.
In fact, with Kenny Jackett highlighting Hawkins’ 6ft 5in frame as a contributory factor to pulling him back into defence it seems that’s been a consideration in his defensive selection.
But on either side of the central pairing or even on a couple of occasions at right-back this term, Burgess has been a constant in a team now showing the form of League One contenders.
The mantra has been ‘zeroes and ones’ when it comes to what it perceived as an acceptable rate of conceding goals this term. In reality, that’s been more zeroes, ones and twos but you wonder how much worse it would’ve been without Burgess.
A look at the League One table shows only the top two have conceded considerably fewer than the 20 goals Pompey have given away from 18 League One games.
So a hole to fill at the Crown Ground, with Jackett having to weigh up Raggett’s suitability to start after missing Saturday through injury and hand him his first league minutes in over five weeks.
The alternatives would be to end Paul Downing’s League One drought, with the man who looked a certain starter when arriving from Blackburn now not featuring for three months in the third tier.
Either way, with Burgess out of the equation the incoming face will have to shake off ring rust alongside a partner still adjusting to the rigours of his defensive duties, unless Tom Naylor drops back from midfield.
Burgess may have faced his fair share of flak, but his Accrington absence being seen as considerable speaks of increasing influence for a man who’s already Pompey’s current top league starter with 152 appearances.