Pompey's bright, young thing out to shine again

Vauxhall Road is a long way from football's hot spots.

Jack Whatmough has returned from the injury he picked up against Cheltenham at Fratton Park   Picture: Joe Pepler
Jack Whatmough has returned from the injury he picked up against Cheltenham at Fratton Park Picture: Joe Pepler

For Jack Whatmough, it would have felt like Wembley.

Blink and you would have missed it, amid Pompey’s powerful FA Cup third-round performance at Ipswich.

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But last Saturday also heralded a landmark occasion for one of the Blues’ cherished talents.

The setting was Hemel Hempstead Town FC for 15 minutes of football in front of 348 fans.

And the National League South was the platform for Whatmough to hopefully put his injury hell to bed.

Just under 10 months ago, the hurtling emergence of the lad from Gosport was halted under the shadow of the Fratton End.

A frustrating draw with Cheltenham Town had drifted into stoppage time when Robins striker Shaun Harrad challenged Whatmough.

There was little suggestion at the time, but the 19-year-old had just ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

That didn’t stop him limping around as a makeshift striker, however, with Pompey’s three substitutes used up.

That’s a gritty chapter with shades of the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail character. Tis but a ruptured knee ligament...

There’s no comedy, though, in undergoing surgery and the long, hard road of recovery Whatmough faced.

To his credit, it’s a path he’s tackled with vigour and the dedication needed to make a comeback from such a serious problem.

Go back 20 years, and the mention of cruciate issues would strike fear into players as an all-too-likely career-ending injury.

It’s not the case anymore, but not without the hours of rehabilitation and days in the gym.

That’s what the defender did over the summer while his team-mates were uploading shots of their sun-kissed holidays to Twitter.

It’s paid off, with Whatmough’s return at the quick end of the eight to 12 month period associated with recovery from such an injury.

Much has changed in the intervening period, however.

There’s little doubt Whatmough was seen as the crown jewel in Pompey’s array of emerging aces a year ago.

The buzz about the kid with the mop of blonde hair stretched back way before he was handed his debut at 17 years and three months at the end of 2013.

England age-group honours cemented the quiet confidence the defender who left Southampton for the Blues as a youngster was an asset to savour.

But Andy Awford, a champion of the defender, has now departed and Whatmough has looked on at the progress under Paul Cook.

Fellow Academy graduate, Adam Webster, has flourished in the middle of defence, while the noise these days is all about Conor Chaplin.

Not too long ago, the thought of Whatmough going to Hawks to pick up playing time would have seemed, frankly, ridiculous.

A similar story about him going to Gosport before his injury was laughed out of Pompey’s Roko training base.

Whatmough now joins a team struggling at the foot of the sixth tier of the English game.

He does so willingly, however, and with the knowledge it’s a necessary step to make to complete his journey back to full fitness.

Whatmough could have been left with stars in his eyes after all the accolades so early in his career and talk of great things.

With a level head beyond his tender years, the events of the past year will only serve to further ground the lad from Gosport, though.

The feeling is it can also provide an extra layer of steel to marry with Whatmough’s talent – and the determination to show he’s still one of the game’s bright, young things.