Dave Kitson has been assured: You still have a part to play.
That is the pledge from Michael Appleton, who dropped the striker from Pompey’s matchday squad for last weekend’s visit of Bristol City.
Kitson has gone 19 games without a goal – last scoring in the 3-0 victory over Nottingham Forest on November 5 – but was still widely expected to be on the bench on Saturday.
Instead, he was axed from the Blues squad as rookie Ashley Harris and injury-hampered Benjani were the forwards selected as substitutes ahead of him.
The former Reading player was booed by sections of the Fratton faithful during his last home appearance.
That was when he appeared as a substitute against Middlesbrough – and promptly missed a glorious opportunity to score.
Appleton admitted the crowd reaction that day came into his thinking when weighing up Kitson’s involvement on Saturday.
In total, the 32-year-old has netted just 11 times in 68 appearances during his disappointing south-coast stay.
Yet, at a time when Pompey are desperate for goals, Appleton is not writing him off.
And he conceded Kitson could well return for tonight’s visit of Birmingham.
He said: ‘It was a football decision. Kits was fine – he completely understood.
‘He took it how I thought he would. He’s a professional.
‘It is up to him now. He still has a part to play for the rest of the season.
‘The next home game is coming up tonight and I will make those decisions as and when they come.
‘If I do bring him back into the squad at any time over the next six weeks, he has got to somehow find that hunger and desire he obviously once had.
‘So when he does get on the field of play, he shows all the fans there is a player still within him and hopefully gets a goal or two.
‘What you have got is someone really, really low on confidence because he has not scored for 19 games.
‘When you haven’t scored for that long it is difficult because the goal probably looks like a five-a-side goal every time he looks to shoot.
‘That is the case with a few of the players at the minute, so we need to get him in a good frame of mind, and once he is, hopefully he’ll be an asset for us.’
Kitson has largely struggled to win over the fans since arriving from Stoke City, alongside Liam Lawrence, in August 2010.
After netting four times in his opening seven matches, the goals have dried up for the former Britannia Stadium front man.
Last month he was criticised by supporters following a sending off against Barnsley – with the Blues going on to lose 2-0.
Kitson is contracted to Pompey until the summer of 2013.
But Appleton admitted, at present, there have not been any inquiries from other clubs as Pompey seek to slash their wage bill.
He added: ‘There is no interest in him, not at the minute.
‘Saturday was a footballing decision, though.
‘After the way he got booed coming on in the previous home game, I had to make a decision for the sake of the team probably more than anything.
‘I didn’t want any negativity around the place.
‘It was a game I felt we had to win because you don’t know what is going to go on results-wise anywhere else.
‘To be fair to Kits, he understood completely and took it on the chin.’