The former loanee who served his purpose at Portsmouth - but midfield has evolved ahead of Stuart O'Keefe's return with Gillingham

He formerly occupied the engine room for Pompey.

Friday, 11th October 2019, 1:00 pm
Updated Friday, 11th October 2019, 1:00 pm

Now Stuart O’Keefe will return to Fratton Park donning the colours of Gillingham tomorrow.

The midfielder is likely to start for Steve Evans’ side’s League One visit to the Blues.

O'Keefe will be back at familiar surroundings, having spent the 2017-18 campaign on loan at PO4.

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Joining from Cardiff on summer transfer deadline day, he was brought in with a purpose – to add experience to the middle of the park.

Following Pompey’s promotion from League Two, there was little of it remaining.

Skipper Michael Doyle opted to join Coventry, while Amine Linganzi and Stanley Aborah were both released by Kenny Jackett after he succeeded Paul Cook as boss.

Danny Rose remained the only senior central midfielder, with youngsters Adam May and Ben Close the Blues’ other options.

Former Pompey loanee Stuart O'Keefe returns to Fratton Park with Gillingham tomorrow. Picture: Joe Pepler

O’Keefe was signed to help Pompey acclimatise to their new League One surroundings, with the club having spent the past four years in the Football League's basement division.

He’d featured in the Premier League for Palace and the Championship with the Bluebirds. An ideal pedigree for a loanee.

Jackett regarded O’Keefe as a key man, handing him his full debut against Rotherham just three days after moving to the south coast.

Against much fan disapproval, it was Fratton favourite Rose who was jettisoned from the squad, with May starting against the Millers and Close on the bench.

In total, O’Keefe would make 25 appearances for Pompey, scoring two goals.

His setback was compounded by Rose breaking his leg against Northampton before the new year and being ruled out for the rest of the campaign.

When the pair did eventually become holding-midfield partners before Christmas, it was undoubtedly when the Blues were at their strongest.

After the 1-0 win over Bury on December 16, when O’Keefe suffered his problem, Jackett’s troops were just a point off the play-offs.

He would return to action at Rochdale on April 7 in the 3-3 draw with Rochdale and helped Pompey finish eighth in the table.

While he displayed plenty of energy and vigour, the Suffolk-born man wasn’t someone who specifically shielded the back four, a passer who dictated possession or a frequent provider of goals and assists.

Since his departure, the Blues have evolved in the middle third.

Tom Naylor arrived in June 2018 as the police enforcer, Close’s development has been outstanding and Andy Cannon is starting to show his potential.

Meanwhile, Ben Thompson's impact last term was scintillating and we’re still yet to see the best of this campaign’s midfield loanee Ross McCrorie, who is held in the highest regard at Rangers.

The options Pompey have had since O’Keefe left have been an upgrade.

That shouldn't mean his impact should go underestimated, though.

He assisted the Blues to stabilise back in the third tier and gave Jackett the platform to sign his successors.