The undisputed beacon of Portsmouth hope offering supporters much-needed cause for early-season optimism

His form has been an island of optimism amid the sea of savagery which has washed across the start to the campaign.

If the Pompey player-of-the-month gong was still doing the rounds at Fratton, there would be only one man in contention to receive the award for September.

In fact, his name has been repeatedly used as a consolation in fan rants about their team’s travails, before Kenny Jackett’s men delivered that emphatic response to their tepid opening at the weekend.

‘We can’t score, the football’s awful and Jackett’s going nowhere,’ has been the gist of the oft-repeated early-season gripes from the Fratton faithful. ‘But at least Jack Whatmough’s playing well and can hold his head high.’

And there’s no doubt the Gosport lad’s form has been a much-needed beacon of positivity, through a period where darkness has shrouded the mood of supporters.

It’s been 21 months since the homegrown favourite stuck an unbroken run of six games together in the manner he had so far this term, before being rested for Tuesday’s EFL Trophy win over Southend.

Given what’s happened in the past, everyone’s reticent to celebrate too prematurely a return which has been full of promise.

Nor does anyone want to offer praise which would border on condescending, for a man who’s looking at a bank of 30 to 40 games as the yardstick for a satisfactory return to the Pompey fray.

Jack Whatmough celebrates his goal on Saturday (Photo by Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com)

But the run of consecutive fixtures is encouraging, no doubt.

What is undoubtedly greater cause for contentment at this stage, however, is the level Whatmough has returned to first-team action at.

Seven months ago, the academy graduate was given just about the toughest assignment possible on his return to league action after a 13-month lay-off.

Handling League One’s premier striker in the rampant Ivan Toney and his supporting cast of Peterborough attacking talent, was a task beyond virtually every third-tier defence last season.

It was needs must from Jackett, but almost unfair to task the 24-year-old with that daunting challenge when he was patently feeling his way back.

In the end, it was a chastening 45-minute experience before Whatmough was withdrawn at the interval, and no one knowing what was coming next to slow his return.

Covid-19 was to take him down a path where his family, and unborn daughter’s health, was put before football and his own comeback.

The decision to stay away from Pompey’s training ground and effectively rule himself out of the team’s play-off bid, was one which was publicly supported by the club and wholly understood by the supporter base.

But it would’ve been natural for Whatmough to wonder how the decision was going to affect his progress moving forward, with talk of Kenny Jackett wanting to assess his squad after their pre-season return, before making decisions on whether a loan may be an avenue to explore.

That notion quickly disappeared across the players’ return though, with reports instead surfacing of both form and fitness catching the eye in training.

Even then, though, with Pompey hunting for a left-sided central defender, the suggestion was it could be Sean Raggett moving to the right of the central two with Whatmough making way.

Fast forward a couple of months, and the idea of that happening appears vaguely ridiculous.

It’s Raggett’s place which now looks to be at stake, with Rasmus Nicolaisen pushing for league inclusion against MK Dons this weekend following an encouraging bow at Southend.

A mobile defender was what Jackett required, with the search for a defensive duo with the right blend of attributes to take on attacking allcomers.

With there some concern about how the current pairing would match up against raw pace trying to get in behind them, Paul Downing was once again considered as a complement before a seemingly definitive decision being made on his suitability.

The way things are currently playing out, the smart money would be on Nicolaisen and Whatmough potentially linking up as a pairing with the right blend of silk and steel.

But after Tuesday night at Roots Hall, there now appears the potential to opt for all three moving forward, after Pompey’s fascinating 3-4-3 experiment was deemed a success.

There will naturally remain some nervousness and worry, from those willing Whatmough on to the heights his career has promised.

You only have to look to the 71st minute of the Carabao Cup loss at Brighton, when the former England age-group man was left limping after a tackle and hearts were in mouths.

Such a reaction may even grate on the man himself, after all the gruelling rehab he’s been through to reach a point where he’s considered fully recovered

But perhaps it’s something he will have to accept is borne out of well-intended concern for his physical health, until he racks up the kind of run of games he’s expecting to reach - and his injury record is forgotten.

By his own admission, the first century of Pompey games took longer to reach than Whatmough expected. Today, he can now look towards the next ton arriving a lot quicker.

However they come, there’s no doubt that with the new season up and running, he today stands as the first defensive name down on Jackett’s team-sheet.

After the physical and mental challenges brought about by his battles over the past five years, that offers some much-needed cause for early-season celebration.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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