Michael Appleton has thrown down the gauntlet to Pompey’s impressive young guns as he told them: Show me you deserve to make the grade.
The Blues boss was impressed with several members of Andy Awford’s Academy side when he was in the stands to watch them crush Bristol City 5-1 in their midweek FA Youth Cup encounter.
Appleton has insisted that age will be no barrier if he feels a player deserves his chance.
And he believes some could make the step up before the end of the current campaign.
Appleton said: ‘I’m a big believer in young players getting opportunities and, hopefully, you will see that over the coming months and years.
‘I’m a firm believer that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
‘If one of the young boys is pulling up trees when he comes in and trains with us, he will get an opportunity.
‘Because the squad is so small, there may be an opportunity before the end of the season that we see quite a few of them.’
Ashley Harris scored twice, while Josh Warren, Jack Maloney and George Colson were the other goalscorers in an impressive display against Bristol City on Wednesday.
But although Pompey’s youth development effectively ground to a halt during the administration process, Appleton sees encouraging signs that it is back on its feet under the guidance of former Blues skipper and Academy boss Awford.
Appleton said: ‘Watching the game on Wednesday filled me with a lot more confidence than it did before the game.
‘They played well on the night.
‘I thought we passed the ball really well and there were some really promising performances.
‘There were five or six of the lads who have been training with us quite regularly over the past three or four weeks.
‘But there were also a few faces who I’d seen but hadn’t seen play or train who really surprised me.
‘It was good to have a bit of an eye on them and see what they’re about and how close they are to bridging that gap between the youth and the first team.’
While he knows it’s premature to now draft several teenagers into the first-team ranks, in one fell swoop, Appleton is keen to show there is a route from the youth ranks to the first-team squad.
He said: ‘It’s important that if a player looks like he is anywhere near the first team, he does train with us.
‘Every day, we have two or three of them training with us and it’s different ones because I need to mix it up and see what they can bring.
‘All I can say is that the ones who have come into the first team and trained haven’t let themselves down. They have not looked out of place and have joined in as if they are a first-team member.
‘That’s pleasing from my point of view because I won’t shirk making a decision.
‘If he is better than a lad who is 29, 30 or 35, then he will play.’