The Fratton faithful chanted ‘Sign him up’ during Tuesday night’s 3-0 victory over Rotherham in recognition of the Leicester loanee’s impressive performances.
Yet that wasn’t always the case, with Hirst starved of first-team starts during the opening three months of the campaign.
Obstructing him was Marquis, the previous season’s 18-goal top scorer and lone striker favoured by Danny Cowley at that time.
With Ellis Harrison still on the comeback trail following a long-term knee injury, it was a straight shoot-out between the only two fit centre-forwards in Pompey’s squad.
Certainly Cowley never saw them as a starting XI partnership. The only time they were paired was January’s 3-2 win at Exeter in the Papa John’s Trophy.
Hirst netted early during that St James Park night, while it proved to be Marquis’ final start before departing for Lincoln 11 days later.
By that stage, though, the former Sheffield Wednesday youngster had already overtaken the out-of-sorts Marquis as first choice.
Marquis had previously clung onto his place despite poor form, a disappointing return of four goals in 18 games, and infamous Charlton and Plymouth misses.
Then, after an unconvincing 1-0 FA Cup win over Harrow Borough in November, the former Doncaster man was sidelined by injury – and up stepped Hirst.
In only his third Pompey start – all of which arriving in the Papa John’s Trophy – Hirst conjured up a man-of-the-match display and also netted in a 3-0 triumph over Crystal Palace Under-21s.
As the only available striker, he was then handed a spot at Wycombe in League One, squaring the cross which created Marcus Harness’ winner.
There was no way back for Marquis, despite returning from injury after a five-game absence.
Hirst has gone on to register 11 times in 28 outings since initially deputising for Marquis, most recently on Tuesday night.
Of the three loan signings who have shone brightest this season, it’s his return next season which is the most realistic, with Gavin Bazunu and Hayden Carter fixed for bright futures at their parent clubs.
Hirst’s career desperately required first-team opportunities to develop, highlighted by just three Championship starts during a forgettable season-long loan at Rotherham last term.
That door finally opened for him after 99 days at Fratton Park, albeit following injury to his striking rival.
Tomorrow the pair meet again, yet on opposite sides, when Michael Appleton’s Lincoln visit the south coast.
Marquis’ future is uncertain. Out of contract with the Imps at the season’s end, he has netted twice in his last 14 outings, with both goals arriving in the same game.
And how Cowley and many of the Fratton faithful would relish seeing his replacement Hirst remaining with Pompey long beyond the current campaign.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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