Alex Bass could have been forgiven for thinking that his start to the 2020-21 season could hardly have been worse.
After being handed the goalkeeper’s jersey for the curtain-raiser League Cup tie against Stevenage at Broadhall Way, he was withdrawn at half-time following two painful defensive mix-ups which left his side trailing by three at the break.
To make matters worse, his replacement, Craig MacGillivray, came to Pompey’s rescue by keeping a second half clean sheet and saving all three penalties in the shootout to send the Blues’ through. An ankle injury picked up in the fixture kept Bass out for the entirety of September, while MacGillivray has been a mainstay in the league side ever since.
However, the young keeper must not become disheartened at his estrangement from the team.
He has performed well when called upon in cup games, earning Papa John’s Trophy clean sheets against Southend and Cheltenham, and conceding just once each against West Ham United under 21’s and Kings Lynn Town. All but one of his appearances since the Stevenage debacle have delivered victories for the Blues, proving that Bass still has the trust of his manager.
It is true that Bass will be disappointed not to be matching the heady heights he reached in the second half of last season, when he displaced MacGillivray. He served as first choice until the end of the season, including being given the nod to start both legs of the playoff semi-final against Oxford United.
Jackett has repeatedly indicated that he sees a very bright future in the game for the 22 year-old, and one would imagine that he will not hesitate to select Bass if an opening in the team presents itself.
It is likely that MacGillivray will be unavailable at some point this season, with the compact schedule placing extra physical demands on players. There is also the potential for MacGillivray to miss games due to international call ups, having made three Scotland squads in 2019. Given the Scotsman’s stellar form this season, he will surely be on Steve Clarke’s radar for a recall.
While it is far from ideal for Bass that he is having to wait for injuries and international call ups for league appearances, he needs only to look at his rival’s career to see reasons for optimism. At both Walsall and Shrewsbury Town, MacGillivray found himself playing second fiddle for most of his spells.
After the Scotsman was signed out of non-league by Walsall, he was forced to accept the role of backup to the vastly more experienced Richard O’Donnell. He made just twelve appearances across three seasons for the Saddlers before moving on a free transfer to Shrewsbury.
But MacGillivray fared little better at the Shrews, appearing only intermittently when Dean Henderson – himself now playing backup to David De Gea at Manchester United – was unavailable for selection.
Yet, since making the switch to Fratton Park ahead of the 2018-19 season, MacGillivray has excelled and his profile has risen exponentially. When he was warming the bench at Shrewsbury, he would never have imagined that he would receive a Scotland call up just a year later.
Bass can take heart from his challenger’s upturn in fortunes. He is five years MacGillivray’s junior, so has plenty of time to improve and force his way into the side. If he emulates the Scotsman’s patience and determination during his own spells on the sideline, Bass could easily fly just as high.
MacGillivray has proved that a lengthy spell out of the team does not put a ceiling on a young goalkeeper’s career.
Opportunities will come Bass’ way in the coming months, whether it be through injury, international call ups, loss of form, or simply impressing in his cup appearances. The important thing is that he works hard, remains patient, and seizes the chances that come his way.