One sure-fire way to know how a player is fairing on a weekly basis is to listen to the crowd’s reaction when they are substituted.
A standing ovation salutes either a player in form or a particularly good effort on the day.
A low rumble of applause that dies out before the player reaches the touchline tells its own story – and that’s what we would have heard if away fans had been in the ground when Ronan Curtis walked off the pitch at Portman Road against Ipswich on 7 November.
Curtis did not have a terrible game, but he hardly shone either.
A handful of decent runs and a good free-kick leading to goal were useful, but as with so much of this season, the Irishman did not take the game to the opposition in the way we know he can.
Curtis’ slow fade out of the game was unsurprising considering his performances so far.
Despite netting six times for the Blues in all competitions, the twenty-four-year-old has not lit up the left-wing so far.
Against a second-string Ipswich side, he didn’t find enough space or make enough incisive runs and was noticeably less of a threat than his fellow forwards Marcus Harness and Ryan Williams.
There are not doubts over Curtis’ talent: at his best he carves up League One defences – weaving in and out of flailing fullbacks and delivering pinpoint crosses or shots on goal.
But as his time at Portsmouth has drawn on, and especially this season, those talismanic appearances have become fewer and further between.
Even though his goal tally looks impressive on paper, only two of them have been in the league, the rest were against lower league or understrength opposition.
The reasons for his loss of impact are hard to pinpoint.
Curtis might be struggling more from fatigue due to his international commitments coupled with a Covid disrupted pre-season.
Teams also double up their defence against him. We saw it against Oxford in the playoffs last season, he was marked out of the game, and it’s noticeable every week that he is hardly given an inch to operate in.
Curtis’ greatest strength, cutting inside onto his lethal right foot, has become too predictable and easy to defend against.
He rarely shoots with his left-foot and his crossing from the by-line clearly needs more work.
And then there’s the empty grounds: no player wants to be rattling around empty stadiums with only the shrieking voices of coaches for company, but arguably it’s showmen like Curtis who miss out the most when crowds are ripped out of the game.
With no fans to cheer him on, and teams increasingly cancelling him out of the game, Curtis’ form has dipped – especially compared to last season.
Even though he is getting more chances for the Republic of Ireland, making his competitive debut against Bulgaria in the Nations League yesterday, his spot in the Blues starting XI is far from certain when Michael Jacobs comes back from injury.
He’ll also be looking over his shoulder internationally, as teammate Marcus Harness was invited to be part of the Ireland squad and could feature for them in the future.
It’s no wonder that he was recently insisting he would ‘work [his] socks off for the lads’ when on international duty.
The next month will be crucial for the Irishman and it presents him with a chance to once again establish himself as a ‘must start’ in Kenny Jackett’s team.
Even though he has missed Pompey’s fixtures against West Ham and Plymouth, he’ll likely be back with the team before Jacobs is fully fit.
It is down to the former Derry City player to use that time wisely – and to once again show fans watching and listening at home performances which will set this division on fire.
The chance is there for the taking, but with Marcus Harness’ starting place all but certain and Ryan Williams looking increasingly dangerous going forward, the Portsmouth manager has the luxury of choice – and the onus is on Curtis to earn back his place for the Blues once again.
Photo: Andrew Hurdle