Rangers youngster Ross McCrorie can look to Millwall's Ben Thompson for Portsmouth inspiration
There’s a certain familiarity to a current Pompey poser that not only has manager Kenny Jackett confusedly scratching his head, but fans down these parts and some north of the border, too.
This time 12 months ago, the Blues were really yet to see evidence of the hype that surrounded Ben Thompson’s season-long loan arrival from Championship Millwall.
Shortly after moving to Pompey, the PO4 club were told in no uncertain terms that Thompson’s stay was a temporary one and Jackett should quickly quash any hopes of turning it into a permanent arrangement.
Lions boss Neil Harris said: ‘First and foremost, his long-term future lies with our football club.
‘He's a super young player and a fantastic character.
‘In my opinion, he's going to be a good Millwall captain in the future.
‘He's gone on a short-term gain for him to get that experience of playing again, to get the minutes in his legs and to certainly help Kenny and Portsmouth keep moving forward.
‘There's also one eye on us with development.’
Yet 10 games into his Fratton Park loan, after the Blues had beaten Coventry 1-0 on October 2, 2018, Thompson had started only half of those matches, while his past three outings had come from the bench.
The midfielder’s residency in the dugout continued for the league game against Gillingham and then Crawley in the Checkatrade Trophy, before his recall to the starting line-up for the trip to Wimbledon on October 13.
That instigated a run of 17 starts from the Blues’ next 19 games, with Thompson all of a sudden catapulting himself into a key player in Pompey’s impressive pursuit of Championship football and the midfielder’s overall importance recognised as he was rested only for the so-called lesser EFL Trophy outings against the youngsters of both Spurs and Arsenal.
Unfortunately, we don’t need a reminder of what happened next, though.
Thompson’s brilliant form in the Blues engine room prompted Harris to recall him early in the January transfer window.
A blow that contributed to Pompey’s failure to convert a place at the top of the League One table into a promotion spot at the season’s end.
Fast forward to the present day, and the Fratton faithful will be hoping for a similar rise in fortunes for another on-loan midfielder with bags of talent but whom is yet to make his mark – Ross McCrorie.
Just like Thompson, who was 22 when he moved to the Blues, 21-year-old McCrorie arrived with a big reputation and a manager under no illusions about his potential worth to his set-up – on this occasion Glasgow Rangers.
With the terms of his loan move agreed, Gers boss Steven Gerrard felt the need to quickly rule out a permanent move for his young midfielder further down the line, stating he had big plans for the Scottish ace at Ibrox on his eventual return.
Back in the summer, the former Liverpool captain said: ‘There's no deal for him to go there permanent. It is a development loan.
‘Portsmouth is a good club, Kenny Jackett plays the right way, the fans are demanding there and that will prepare him very well for the future here.
‘He's our player and we want him here for a long time and we want to help him get to the next level.
‘Hopefully he'll come back with 40-50 games under his belt, a better player ready to challenge the lads who've got the shirts. He's certainly one of ours and I've got big plans for Ross McCrorie.’
A rousing endorsement from a legend of the game, if ever there was one.
But with nearly two months of the 2019-20 season already completed, Pompey fans - just like in October 2018 - have yet to see what all the commotion was about regarding their latest big-name loan arrival.
McCrorie has featured just seven times for Jackett so far this term as he struggles to make the impact so many, including Gerrard, had anticipated.
A sending off on his debut against Shrewsbury on the opening day of the season didn’t help matters.
Neither has Jackett’s decision to utilise the youngster in a makeshift right-back role on occasions.
But with the Blues, who currently sit 19th in the table after a disappointing start to the campaign, struggling for form, confidence and results, surely McCrorie’s talent should have seen him stand out more by now at this level.
His last league start came in the 2-2 draw against Burton on September 17 - a game that saw him substituted after 71 minutes.
But Jacket failed to utilise him in the league defeat at Wycombe or the recent home win against Bolton, as the youngster was forced to watch on from the sidelines.
As a result, the midfielder has featured for just eight minutes over Pompey’s past three games, coming on as a 82nd-minute substitute in the Carabao Cup defeat at the hands of Southampton.
In fact, McCrorie has completed the full 90 minutes just twice for the Blues this season and been an unused substitute three times already when available.
That’s hardly what Gerrard & Co were expecting when the midfielder's move down south was ratified back in July.
With Thompson’s early Millwall return still fresh in the memory, initial fears that McCrorie could be recalled in similar circumstances by Rangers come this January appear well off the mark at this stage.
However, a lack of game time may eventually be cited if the Scotland under-21 captain continues to be on the fringes of things at Fratton Park.
But if ever there was an example of a player turning around his PO4 fortunes in spectacular style it’s Thompson.
The Millwall ace could do no wrong in a Pompey shirt by the time January arrived - a reliance that eventually backfired on the Blues.
And McCrorie should note that he too can replicate the former fans’ favourite’s sudden trajectory into hearts of the Fratton faithful.
The time is ticking on what has already proven to be a difficult season for all involved at PO4.
But there will still enough opportunities for McCrorie to finally make his mark and replicate the Blue-eyed boy status he’s manufactured for himself at Ibrox at Fratton Park.
The stage is his – but it will be up to McCrorie himself what he makes of it.