Appleton pledges to uncover Ward solution

18/12/2011 (SPORT) POMPEY_SAINTS''Portsmouth FC v Southampton FC at Fratton Park on Sunday 18th December 2011.''Pictured is: (left) Portsmouth FC's Joel Ward and Southampton FC's Adam Lallana during the match.''Picture: Sarah Standing (114426-6972)
18/12/2011 (SPORT) POMPEY_SAINTS''Portsmouth FC v Southampton FC at Fratton Park on Sunday 18th December 2011.''Pictured is: (left) Portsmouth FC's Joel Ward and Southampton FC's Adam Lallana during the match.''Picture: Sarah Standing (114426-6972)
Conor Chaplin and Brett Pitman. Picture: Shaun Boggust

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Michael Appleton already has one New Year’s resolution scribbled down.

Thankfully for Joel Ward it centres on finally solving his versatility conundrum.

The Blues boss is committed to pinning the youngster down to one position in his Pompey side.

The south coast derby hero has operated at left-back, right-back, left midfield and right midfield so far this season.

He has also spent seven games as a substitute.

While his flexibility is a priceless commodity to any manager, Ward has often suffered from not being given a run in one particular role.

But under Appleton, the Emsworth youngster has flourished as a right-sided midfielder, culminating in the winner against Coventry and the equaliser against Southampton.

Regardless, the Blues boss is unsure whether that is where the 22-year-old’s future lies.

Nonetheless, he has pledged to identify Ward’s best position during the second half of the campaign.

Appleton said: ‘I am delighted with Joel but because he can play in numerous positions, I feel sorry for him at times.

‘I have promised him that once I get a look at the squad – hopefully in January and towards the end of the season – he will be competing for one position in my team.

‘It won’t be a case of having to use him in various positions because we need to get the balance of the squad right and utilise the right people in the squad.

‘He has popped up with a couple of goals now and that’s fantastic for him.

‘He looks as though he has got a bit of a new lease of life about him.’

Ward has now made 71 appearances for his home-town club.

He has come a long way since making his first-team debut in August 2009.

That was against Hereford United in the Carling Cup, partnering Younes Kaboul in the centre of defence under Paul Hart.

However, a stress fracture of the pelvis ruled him out of action for four months.

He eventually returned later that season to be given a Premier League debut at left-back in a goalless draw at Wigan in April 2010.

That game also marked the Blues debuts of Matt Ritchie and Lenny Sowah in Avram Grant’s youthful line-up.

Of the trio, today just Ward remains. He established himself in Steve Cotterill’s side last season making 46 appearances and scoring three goals.

But once more his roles ranged from left or right full back to across the midfield areas.

Nonetheless, he won several player of the season awards from fan groups in recognition of his impressive displays.

Ward struggled for form in the early part of the current campaign, finding himself on the bench on occasions.

Now he appears to be thriving in the right midfield role he has featured in during the last four matches.

And, of course, he netted that 84th-minute equaliser in the south coast derby.

Appleton added: ‘That goal probably means more to Joel being a local lad.

‘The amount of people who pulled me over in the city and told me how important that game was, was incredible.

‘Joel can probably appreciate that a bit more than the rest of the players can.

‘You can tell that with his celebration.

‘I gave him a bit of stick because he was lording it up after the game and taking all the applause while we were waiting for him in the dressing room for about 10 minutes.

‘He’s always the last off the pitch and he doesn’t mind a bit of the limelight!

‘But growing up as a Portsmouth fan, he has probably dreamed about doing that for quite a while.’