Awford backs youth changes to ensure bright Pompey future

Academy boss Andy Awford

Academy boss Andy Awford

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It’s a youth restructure which will provide crucial assistance in enabling Pompey’s current promising crop to keep on flourishing.

That’s the verdict of Andy Awford, who is convinced the newly-formed development squad can reap future rewards for the club.

The Academy manager has overseen the likes of Ashley Harris and Adam Webster’s emergence into the first-team squad of late.

Others such as Sam Magri, Jed Wallace and Alex Grant have been unused substitutes.

Many of that group will become first-year professionals next season and take their place in the resurrected development squad.

They will then be able to train with the first team when required and play friendlies for the newly-formed squad.

For Awford, it is a system which is essential to the youngsters’ long-term prospects as footballers.

He believes the likes of Webster and Harris were hampered when first-team match-day duties prevented them playing Academy fixtures.

Periods sat on Michael Appleton’s bench and travelling with the squad effectively restricted precious game time.

In addition, academies are no longer permitted to field over-age players in matches next season.

Now the development squad will offer around 12 fixtures a season – in addition to potential first-team action.

And Awford is adamant Appleton’s youth set-up changes are a massive boost in assisting the conveyor belt of Pompey talent.

He said: ‘Next year we have a little group of young pros.

‘I am not saying they are going to be Premier League players, but we think they have a chance.

‘It is about offering them the right route to go on – that path is there now.

‘I think it’s a really positive move by the club and something that has been missing from the structure for the past two or three seasons.

‘If I am honest, a couple of the boys missed it last year.

‘Adam Webster and Ashley Harris spent a lot of time with the first team and didn’t play too much football at one point.

‘Adam played a game for us on December 17 and didn’t play again for a good few weeks as he was with the first team.

‘When he came back it was difficult for him.

‘Not just him but for a few others who also did the same.

‘These lads can train with the first team but they also need game time.

‘How can you possibly be match sharp if you don’t play matches?

‘I liken it to a horse needing a run to get it up to speed.

‘If you have a centre-half suspended for a couple of weeks, you need somebody coming in who has played matches.

‘This is a stepping stone. Some lads have gone past youth-team football and are not quite yet ready for the first-team environment.

‘And for their development it is really important this has been put into place.’

The youngsters emerging from the Academy set-up have offered rare cheer to Pompey fans this season.

Harris was immediately taken to the heart of fans, starting the last two matches of the campaign and earning plenty of praise.

The youngster from Purbrook now becomes a first-year professional, ensuring he is too old for Academy matches,

With no development squad this season, first-year professionals Lewis Tallack, Lewis Stockford and Carl Walshe had to venture on loan to non-league clubs for matches.

Thankfully for the present crop, that has now changed.

Awford added: ‘Next season we are not allowed to play over-age players in the youth team.

‘Only recently Lewis Stockford, Lewis Tallack and Carl Walshe played a few games with us despite being first-year professionals. You can’t do that now.

‘Instead, people of that age will be with the development squad, training and playing games.

‘There won’t be 50 games in the season and I would not go into a league.

‘You need that flexibility to play those matches when required.

‘Some people don’t see it as competitive and do not think it is worthwhile – I do.

‘For my lads to go up and play against 20/21 year olds and probably a few first-team players coming back from injury will do them the world of good.’