Awford calls for patience over Pompey youngsters

Academy manager Andy Awford
Academy manager Andy Awford
Matty Kennedy. Picture: Joe Pepler

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They have this week occupied more than half of Michael Appleton’s squad.

Those nine first-year professionals can also expect regular roles in a pre-season friendly programme which kicks off on Saturday against the Hawks at Westleigh Park.

But the man who has overseen the development group’s emergence from the Academy has appealed for patience.

For Andy Awford, it is too early to regard his former pupils as the answer to Appleton’s player problems.

Granted, the Blues boss has championed Sam Magri, Ashley Harris and Adam Webster for parts in his first-team squad.

According to Academy manager Awford, however, the remaining youngsters are not yet ready for such elevation.

Dan Butler, Andy Higgins, Elliot Wheeler, Jed Wallace, Alex Grant, George Colson and Dan Thompson are all likely to be introduced to Pompey fans this summer.

That could start on Saturday, with the friendly against Stuart Ritchie’s Hawks.

Members of the development squad are also likely to be part of the 10-day Spanish training camp, which will feature two friendly fixtures.

Considering the meagre make-up of Appleton’s first-team, opportunities will be on offer this summer to the club’s promising youngsters.

Yet Awford has warned supporters not to expect too much, too soon.

He said: ‘If any of them break into the first team it’s a bonus. That’s how I see it.

‘But I don’t expect the players to be ready. I don’t think many can cope with 46 games a season.

‘What they all have is potential – that is why they are part of the development group, and in that respect they should be allowed to progress.

‘Yes, they might play the odd game for the first team, but it is important we don’t get carried away.

‘No disrespect, but if that is all we are left with then we are probably in a bit of trouble.

‘The gaffer needs to be able to get his squad together, and if the development group can break through and add to his options, that is fantastic. We can’t expect that to happen, though.

‘I think to be a regular at the age of 18 is very, very difficult these days, considering the pace of the game.

‘Lads are still developing and the game has changed so much in the last 10-15 years that it is tough to do that now.

‘Obviously, Sam, Adam and Ashley are slightly ahead of the others.

‘However, the rest have all got potential which is why we have given them contracts for the next year or two.

‘It is a big year for all these boys. They have really got to kick on now and make some strides but don’t expect them to be ready for the first team at the age of 18.

‘I would say it is at the age of 19-20 when you have to be knocking at that door, so in the meantime they need time to develop.’

In recent pre-seasons the club has blooded a number of youngsters during friendlies.

Ryan Williams, Lewis Stockford and Lewis Tallack all appeared against the Hawks last season.

In addition, Magri also made his first senior appearance in the Blues’ 4-0 victory.

Back in the summer of 2010, Steve Cotterill’s young side won the Edmonton Cup during a tour to America and Canada.

The likes of Liam O’Brien, Ellis Martin, Tom Kilbey, Peter Gregory, Nadir Ciftci and Perry Ryan all featured in a 5-4 penalty win over hosts FC Edmonton.

This time around, Pompey fans can anticipate another youthful look to the team – especially in the Westleigh Park fixture.

Awford added: ‘The young lads will get a sniff this pre-season and they have got to grasp it.

‘Pecking orders change, it’s about coming in and doing well. They have got to be fit and raring to go.

‘I look back at last pre-season and Stockford, Tallack and Williams all were given a chance.

‘If it happens again then great – but from a club point of view I hope and pray the manager gets his squad together ASAP.

‘That has to be his priority.’