Whittingham agonises over defensive dilemma

Gabor Gyepes is available for tomorrow's trip to Tranmere       Picture: Barry Zee
Gabor Gyepes is available for tomorrow's trip to Tranmere Picture: Barry Zee

Guy Whittingham faces a central-defensive dilemma as he plots the downfall of league leaders Tranmere.

Pompey head to Merseyside tomorrow still buoyed by their last-gasp point at Coventry on November 24.

With the arrival of Phil Smith as a second keeper and no reported injuries, Whittingham has a full squad of 20 to select from.

Yet the centre of the caretaker boss’ defence is providing the biggest conundrum as he finalises the starting line-up.

Gyepes was dropped for the first time in his Pompey career for the 1-1 draw at the Ricoh Arena, with Ricardo Rocha partnering Lubomir Michalik.

That was largely down to a virus which had caused Gyepes to suffer heart palpitations and prompted his early substitution against Leyton Orient on November 20.

Now Gyepes has been given the all-clear by doctors and, according to Whittingham, he is fit and raring to go.

However, whether one of this season’s best performers returns to the side for tomorrow’s Prenton Park trip remains a decision to agonise over.

Whittingham said: ‘Gabor is healthy. He has come back and trained really well this week.

‘He looks fit so, of course, is in contention.

‘The toughest decisions are when you are leaving out somebody you know is fit and has been playing reasonably well. I think Gabor has done tremendously well.

‘If you go back before the Bury game on November 10, he has been one of our best players, for sure.

‘He’s also been getting goals and remains a threat from set pieces.

‘It’s only since that Bury game that he hasn’t been on top of his form – and that was when he was on the back end of a virus.

‘I would like to think I have three decent central defenders now.

‘They have all had a part to play in where we are so far and – like all the positions now – that’s what is so good about the squad because we have competition for places.

‘We will assess them in training. We will look at the opposition and how they play. Not just formations but individuals, their strengths, weaknesses and what we can do to counter those.’

Should Gyepes be given the nod to return tomorrow, Michalik is the most likely to make way.

It was Whittingham who brought Rocha back to Fratton Park and the veteran defender has slotted back in with ease.

With that in mind, effectively the battle is on to partner him in the centre of that Pompey defence.

Michalik has started the past 16 consecutive matches and has proven to be a reliable presence.

Yet with someone required to miss out at Tranmere tomorrow, he must see off Gyepes’ challenge.

Whittingham added: ‘Lubo has done well – although I would like to see him become more of a threat in the opposition penalty area, especially with his height and size.

‘I think, at times, he has done well and, at times, not so well.

‘That’s like all of them. You couldn’t say they had done well when they had lost seven games in a row, could you!’