The intriguing Portsmouth right-back battle between James Bolton and Rangers' Ross McCrorie

There was a time when James Bolton was establishing himself as a reliable stand-in centre-half at Pompey.

Thursday, 18th June 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 18th June 2020, 2:09 pm
James Bolton will battle it out with Ross McCrorie for Pompey's right-back spot when the play-off campaign begins. Picture: Joe Pepler

Well, March actually. Effectively a different season, certainly a different world.

Still, to jog the memory, the 25-year-old was pressed into action for two of the Blues’ last three matches before football’s suspension.

Firstly there was partnering Christian Burgess against Arsenal in the FA Cup, with Sean Raggett rested and dropped to the bench.

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Then, two games later and with Burgess banned, Bolton was once more entrusted for the visit of Fleetwood, this time alongside Raggett.

That 2-2 draw signified Pompey’s last fixture before the enforced break. Now, 14 weeks on, Jackett is eyeing a play-off semi-final with Oxford United.

With Pompey’s preferred central-defensive double act available, Bolton’s own focus will be trained on the right-back spot, which he has largely dominated since the turn of the year.

Bolton may have previously demonstrated his versatility, now it’s back to the day job- and fending off the challenge of the Scotland under-21 international.

The former Shrewsbury man was undeniably first-choice before lockdown, with 14 starts in Pompey’s last 17 League One fixtures, a period which consisted of McCrorie’s injury absence.

Rare first-team stability for the summer recruit, whose early season was hampered by injury before being omitted in favour of McCrorie. To add to his frustration, Brandon Haunstrup was next in line, despite being a left-back.

Generally, Jackett has preferred Bolton’s superior defensive game to McCrorie’s better offensive attributes.

Certainly McCrorie’s better moments during an injury-affected loan have been driving forward from right-back, coupled with his effective use of the ball in wide areas.

Similarly, down the same flank, Ryan Williams’ immense work ethic and willingness to track back has often earned him the nod ahead of the skill and greater goal threat posed Marcus Harness.

Still, it took almost half a season for Bolton to win the trust of his manager, the moment arriving as a substitute for the injured McCrorie in December’s 1-0 win over Ipswich.

The question is whether that will remain the case as Pompey emerge through football’s sabbatical to launch a play-off campaign.

Jackett no longer has use for a stand-in centre-half – he needs a right-back to help drive Pompey into the Championship.

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