Recruited by two Portsmouth managers - and departing Nathan Thompson never let them down
Nathan Thompson possesses the curious distinction of being pursued by two different Pompey managers during the month following promotion to League One.
It was Paul Cook who chiefly put in the ground work, with Kenny Jackett swiftly sealing the deal upon his own Fratton Park arrival.
The Swindon free agent’s talents were highly regarded by the pair, nonetheless earmarked for differing remits within their trusted 4-2-3-1 system.
Specifically how Thompson would have fitted into a Cook side represents an intriguing question, yet one we can only speculate upon considering their paths ultimately never crossed.
That is unless, as rumour suggests, the defender is destined for Wigan following tomorrow’s expiry of his Pompey contract.
Still, Thompson hardly fulfils the archetypal Cook full-back – a rampaging presence along the flanks, effectively serving as an auxiliary winger.
The former Blues boss was criticised by some for operating with two holding midfielders in addition to the back four.
The perception among such detractors was the team consisted of six defenders among 10 outfield players, thereby negatively impacting on attacking capabilities.
In truth, Cook’s full-backs served mainly as wide men, positioned on the halfway line and instructed to gallop down their respective flanks to fling in crosses.
According to Ben Davies, the Blues’ swashbuckling right-back during the 2015-16 campaign and a former winger, the manager would lambast his full-backs should they fail to push forward sufficiently.
Davies was expected to get on the end of deliveries flighted into the opposition penalty area by Pompey’s left-back, which during his time was the excellent Enda Stevens.
Similarly, Stevens was briefed to manoeuvre himself at the far post to meet the crosses of Davies and, the following season, Gareth Evans.
Yes Evans, a goal-scoring midfielder and dead-ball expert who took over the mantle for the campaign which would earn the League Two title.
Ever a hard-worker prepared to track back, Evans still had to learn how to defend from deep in addition to fulfilling his natural attacking capabilities.
Certainly, considering Thompson’s own strengths, it is difficult to see him adapting to such an approach under Cook, generating the required results in the process.
Which is why Jackett signified the more comfortable fit for a conventional defender who would establish himself as an automatic right-back choice during two Fratton Park seasons.
Thompson’s expertise in one-v-one situations is obvious, often lauded by team-mates and a powerful counter to opposition attacks.
Perhaps underestimated by some, nonetheless his uncanny ability to step up and thwart a winger’s progress with a thrusting right-footed block became a common characteristic.
Of course, the 28-year-old will largely be remembered for his proficiency at winning free-kicks, often in situations threatening his team’s goal, but always designed to slow time.
It shouldn’t detract from a superb and highly-consistent performer for the Blues, a whole-hearted player, fully committed to the extremes of sustaining concussion and, on another occasion, chipping four teeth.
Matt Clarke had one such tooth fished out of his head following an aerial clash against Bradford, although the new Brighton centre-half’s biggest agony was being forced off with five minutes to go, thereby depriving him of proudly featuring in every minute of last season’s League One programme.
Yet the Thompson flop inevitably became his trademark. A sight to infuriate opposition fans, but amuse those of Pompey persuasion who had grown to recognise the tell-tale signs before its grand unfurling.
Meanwhile, in the press box, Guy Whittingham turning round to exchange knowing smiles with colleagues became a regular occurrence, as were the ensuing sniggers.
Thompson’s penchant for positioning his backside between man and ball before crumpling to the floor represented a handy weapon in the Blues’ armoury – and rarely dismissed without action by match officials.
At Peterborough last season, with Pompey clinging onto a 2-1 advantage during stoppage time, the right-back performed his special move in a corner adjacent to two Posh-supporting stands.
It wasn’t just expletives which rained down on the prone Thompson following the inevitable awarding of a free-kick, but also what appeared to be coffee cups and even a discarded burger.
Crucially, the stunt took the sting out of a Peterborough side finishing strongly, savvy delaying tactics regularly reproduced for the duration of his 78-game Fratton Park stay.
Some may label such actions as shameless diving, unabashed cheating even, yet it demonstrates a gamesmanship often woven into the fabric of successful sides and rarely glimpsed among strugglers.
Still, focusing on that aspect of his game is undoubtedly doing Thompson a disservice. He remains an excellent League One defender with aspirations of proving himself in the Championship.
Certainly Jackett recognised those traits, keen to keep him should Pompey have secured promotion last term, while other colleagues inevitably wouldn’t have continued on the club’s journey should that outcome have been achieved.
When, at the end of February, Jackett revealed the defender had shelved contract talks in favour of examining his options at the season’s end, it thrust the player into an uncomfortable situation underneath the public’s glare.
Rather than accepting that a 28-year-old possessed ambition of turning out at a higher level before his career dictated otherwise, it was perceived as a terrible slight against Pompey.
As a consequence, Thompson’s popularity dipped, even if his committed performances maintained their high bar, while revisionism was rife, suddenly his ability under fire when previously barely questioned.
The truth is Pompey noticeably missed his services at the turn of the year during a spell sidelined through injury, coinciding with three-straight League One losses as their placing at the table’s top began to unravel.
Of course, the Fratton faithful had every reason to be suspicious of Thompson’s reasoning for postponing contract talks – rarely does a player remain having initiated such an approach.
Still, there were cheers at Wembley when he headed home Evans’ left-wing cross to level against Sunderland eight minutes from time. At the far post too, surprising us all.
That Checkatrade Trophy moment represented his maiden Pompey goal and, from that crucial intervention, the Blues progressed to triumph on penalties to claim silverware.
Thompson deserved that. Down to earth, softly-spoken, approachable, without ego and always an engaging interviewee, he contrasts that duplicitous on-pitch persona.
The defender gave sterling service to Pompey – truly an excellent signing by Messrs Cook and Jackett.