Awford praises youngsters’ mental strength

Bradley Tarbuck, right Picture: Ian Hargreaves
Bradley Tarbuck, right Picture: Ian Hargreaves

Andy Awford has backed his Pompey youngsters to maintain their new-found mental strength.

The Academy face Crawley on Saturday having last weekend displayed their resilience to avoid a second-successive heartbreak.

Barely two weeks ago they surrendered a three-goal first-half lead to slump to a 4-3 defeat to Aldershot.

In the following match, last Saturday, they stormed into a 3-1 advantage over Gillingham – only for the opposition to fight back to bring the scores level.

It prompted fears lightning would strike twice on the shell-shocked youngsters.

But this time around Brad Tarbuck popped up to net the winner 10 minutes from time.

For Awford, the Academy’s response justified a week in which the players had been working hard on the psychological side of the game.

The Academy manager and assistant Paul Hardyman devoted time to educating the youngsters on how to prevent a similar repeat to that Aldershot scenario.

And he was delighted how his side this time bounced back to win.

Awford said: ‘I am actually a bit disappointed it got to 3-3 against Gillingham.

‘What pleased me, though, was how they reacted and they deserve a lot of praise for that.

‘At the time it was a real case of deja vu but they had learned about being mentally strong and possessing character and guts.

‘They stood up to be counted, pulled themselves together and made sure they got the winner.

‘We were the better team in the last 15 minutes and went on to win it, deservedly so too.

‘Some people think all you do is turn up on the Saturday for a kickabout but you actually work on plenty of things through the week.

‘Building up to that match there had been a lot of video watching, we had also been working on the pitch about how open the team was and how to stop that.

‘For football you don’t just have to be physically prepared, it is also mental and you have to be bang on your game all the time otherwise you will get caught.

‘The lads took things on board.

‘When it was 3-3 I looked at a couple of the bigger characters in the team to sort it out and they did.

‘Others took longer but also came around.

‘That reaction had nothing to do with football ability, that is mental strength.

‘Next we have Crawley at home – and I am looking for a boring 1-0 win to us!’

Jack Maloney grabbed two goals and James Hartson also netted before Emsworth’s Tarbuck struck the winner late on.

The Academy face Crawley on Saturday at Eastleigh (11am).

– NEIL ALLEN