Awford eyes more Academy first-teamers

Andy Awford and Alan McLoughlin congratulate Ben Close on his debut at Yeovil. Picture: Joe Pepler
Andy Awford and Alan McLoughlin congratulate Ben Close on his debut at Yeovil. Picture: Joe Pepler
Dion Donohue. Picture: Colin Farmery

New boy’s bitter-sweet Pompey experience

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Andy Awford has pledged to continue presenting Pompey’s youth with first-team opportunities.

But he has warned timing is crucial.

Ben Close became the latest Pompey Academy product to make his senior debut when he appeared as substitute against Yeovil.

The former Priory School pupil replaced the injured Nigel Atangana in the 43rd minute.

And he went on to play a crucial part in the 3-1 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy success.

Also in midfield was Nick Awford, one year older and making only his second start for the Blues.

The teenage duo’s energy and work-rate impressed Awford during their triumph at the League One club.

And the ex-Academy boss wants more youngsters to follow in their footsteps.

He said: ‘I want to get more kids involved if I can.

‘But we are not going to win too many football matches if we have got all kids in the team, you have got to have your balance right.

‘Against Yeovil the senior pros were excellent and I thought Nick and Ben were fantastic. They didn’t look out of place.

‘Nick was superb and grew into the game.

‘He needed the Stoke match to get those nerves out, which is why we did it, and on Tuesday night you saw a good footballer in Nick Awford out there showing people what he can do.

‘He just needs that confidence in him to get out there.

‘We as a staff know what he can do because me, Paul and Macca have worked with him for four-and-a-half years. We know what it is in there.

‘But he has to have the opportunity to be able to come out.

‘Ben is the same. They both need confidence and the only way they are going to get that is if they play.

‘I had no reservations putting Ben on to replace Nigel in the first half. If they are good enough, they are old enough.

‘We had him on the bench at the end of last season and couldn’t quite get him on the pitch at Stoke.

‘But he’s now had his breakthrough and we are starting to get young players coming through.

‘Nick and Ben certainly did themselves proud.’

Close, who comes from Fratton, turned 18 last month.

He had previously been an unused substitute but on Tuesday night his opportunity arrived at Huish Park.

Awford added: ‘Ben is a very good passer of the ball, he keeps the ball and reads the game very well.

‘We didn’t see it too much the other night at Yeovil but when Ben gets confident he will attack a little bit more, he is prepared to slip a pass in and is prepared to shoot from distance.

‘He has scored plenty of goals in the youth team shooting from distance and I am sure he will get more confident the more he carries on with the first team.’