The Fratton Park return of Nathan Thompson - the player Portsmouth have still to replace

Nathan Thompson is timing his run to perfection, certainly not a trait associated with someone possessing natural defensive idiosyncrasies.

Friday, 29th November 2019, 5:00 pm
Updated Friday, 29th November 2019, 11:11 pm

Nonetheless, the right-back Pompey have still to replace is heading back to Fratton Park in a week’s time, albeit under the banner of Peterborough.

Life at London Road began confined to the bench, occasionally tossed tasty morsels in the form of cup competition involvement, featuring in the Trophy and FA Cup.

Fellow summer recruit Niall Mason instead dominated first-team selection, a full-back six years Thompson’s junior and perceived to be blessed with greater distribution skills.

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Nathan Thompson celebrates his 82nd-minute equaliser at Wembley in March's Checkatrade Trophy final. Picture: Barry Zee

To make matters more frustrating, the former Swindon man was sidelined for several matches through a groin problem.

Then, last weekend, Thompson was handed his second start of the League One campaign.

By all accounts, he produced his finest display of his eight appearances to date as Darren Ferguson’s side claimed a 1-0 success over Burton.

Mason watched from the bench as an unused substitute as the Posh collected a first league triumph in four fixtures. The return to winning ways was matched by a maiden clean sheet during that same period.

Nathan Thompson has made just two League One starts since his August switch to Peterborough. Picture: Pete Norton/Getty Images

On Sunday, Peterborough entertain Dover in the FA Cup, followed by Ipswich in the Trophy on Tuesday.

When league action resumes on Saturday, December 7, they are booked in to appear at Pompey.

Surely only injury – or suspension – could now deprive Thompson of a first-team presence upon his Fratton Park return.

While the combative defender has been slugging it out with Mason, no doubt consisting of tumbles to the canvas, the club he left behind have struggled to unearth a genuine successor.

At the last count the tally has reached five before the end of November, such has been the difficulty in resolving the issue.

Initially Anton Walkes was entrusted with the responsibility having been right-back understudy for one-and-a-half years, yet was swiftly jettisoned mid-match at Sunderland in only the third Saturday of the campaign.

His sole appearance in the role since was at Oxford United in the Trophy, an outing marked by a goal in a 2-2 draw.

However, he put his penalty wide in the accompanying shoot-out won 5-4 by the visitors.

Of late, Walkes has deputised for the injured Tom Naylor in a holding midfield role, impressing sufficiently for Kenny Jackett to proclaim that now represents the position the 22-year-old is best suited.

Ross McCrorie was next asked to fulfil the duty, a task not unfamiliar considering his experience for Scotland under-21s in the position.

Such has been the ever-changing right-back selection this season, the loanee from Rangers was into his second spell when he tore his hamstring against Southend at a time when starting to look the part.

Jackett is eyeing a full week’s training for McCrorie commencing from Monday – pencilling in a potential comeback against Peterborough.

There was even a three-match cameo from Christian Burgess, earning The News’ man-of-the-match accolade at Blackpool in the process.

In truth, it was purely a short-term measure while James Bolton recovered sufficiently from an ankle problem to claim the place he was recruited to fill.

The 25-year-old signed in June on a free transfer from Shrewsbury, an arrival rendered essential following Thompson’s desire to quit Fratton Park.

It is the issue of Bolton which is the most baffling when analysing Pompey’s right-back situation, specifically how rapidly he has plummeted out of the first-team picture.

Having returned to action in September following injury, he registered five-successive League One starts, before dropped after a last-gasp defeat at AFC Wimbledon.

From that juncture, McCrorie, recruited as a central midfielder, and now left-back Brandon Haunstrup have been preferred.

Bolton has since taken residence on the bench, although failed to make the squad entirely against Southend, ironically a match in which a right-back was required after McCrorie's first-half injury.

The former Halifax Town defender had signed a three-year deal after identified as Thompson’s replacement. Several months into the season and Jackett appears to have lost faith.

Certainly there remains a route back, as Walkes has so recently demonstrated in his midfield opportunity, while on the training pitch the coaching staff continue to work on strengthening aspects of Bolton’s game.

Nonetheless, he joins Paul Downing as summer signings tumbling out of the manager’s first-team plans before the end of October.

Incidentally, Oli Hawkins has been converted from a striker to a central defender to queue jump ahead of the unfortunate Downing.

With Jack Whatmough’s return to action expected next month following long-term injury, the former Blackburn man could yet find himself lagging even further behind.

Back to Bolton, the necessity to unearth a replacement for Thompson became apparent following the turn of the year, this was no knee-jerk signing.

Thompson and his agent repeatedly stressed a desire to seek a Championship home upon his contract expiry in the summer of 2019.

Despite offered fresh terms to remain at Fratton Park from around January, the full-back had his eyes elsewhere, in particular QPR, although declined to burn his bridges by reiterating all options would be assessed in the summer.

At the age of 28, Loftus Road represented perhaps a final opportunity to test himself at Championship level, unless promotion could be achieved with Pompey.

Jackett appreciated the honesty of the likeable Thompson and refused to close the door. It explains why the Blues boss later allowed him to train on the eve of the season during his struggle to find a new club.

The QPR move had fallen through, Rangers instead opting to renew the contract of veteran right-back Angel Rangel, leaving the player they once courted in limbo.

Over at Fratton Park, by that stage Bolton had arrived to replace him in Jackett’s side, supplemented by Anton Walkes as a contender and Haji Mnoga developing promisingly.

When Thompson was invited back to boost his fitness, it was too late for a permanent stay. Certainly it made little sense in devoting even more of the playing budget to a third senior right-back – a fourth if McCrorie is considered.

With the season three games old, Thompson joined Peterborough, signing a two-year deal to remain at the League One level he was keen to depart.

And in a week’s time he will be back at Fratton Park, where a warm reception deserves to be rolled out in recognition of an excellent Blues servant still missed.