Back at a Pompey ground near you – 1,598 days later

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At the end of a gruelling 147-mile trek, followed by the negotiation of the craterous car park, the return was complete.

After an absence of four years, four months and 15 days, reserve-team football had kicked off once again.

The grandly-titled Nene Park Academy, residing in the Orton Longueville neck of Peterborough, would serve as the significant venue.

When Pompey previously featured in a reserve fixture, Joel Ward, Matt Ritchie and Marlon Pack were among the starting line-up.

As was a future Finland international expected to play Champions League football against Liverpool on Tuesday and a goalkeeper who will face the Blues on that same night.

Yet last Tuesday at 2pm, the Blues were back participating, albeit in a different incarnation.

Perhaps, fittingly, they picked up where they left off during that Premier League era – with a victory.

Alan McLoughlin’s men were frustratingly wasteful in front of goal, nonetheless fully deserved their 3-2 opening-day triumph over the Posh in the Final Third Development League southern division.

Joy then for the seven faithful fans who travelled, of which Basher Benfield, Grahame Stewart and Paul Boynton had been present 1,598 days earlier.

The remaining supporters numbered around 30, discounting Peterborough players from several age groups taking residence on the touchlines – one riding an exercise bike at intervals.

Posh manager Darren Ferguson and director of football Barry Fry were other noticeable observers amid the glorious sunshine.

Certainly an occasion to hold a picnic as two men discovered, chomping on their Subways while sat sprawled near the pitch.

It was back on April 26, 2010, when Guy Whittingham’s side defeated Aston Villa 3-1 in front of a crowd of 199 at Westleigh Park.

That signalled the final whistle of the campaign and also second-string football at Pompey.

Months after that victory over the newly-crowned Premier Reserve League champions, the format was disbanded by Steve Cotterill and chief executive David Lampitt to save costs.

To think that Villa team included future first-team players Andreas Weimann, Ciaran Clark, Marc Albrighton and Nathan Delfouneso, in addition to one-time Pompey loanee Jonathan Hogg.

Significantly, Whittingham’s entire match-day 18 possessed Academy roots rather than being senior professionals dropping down for a run out.

And through goals from Gael Nlundulu, Ritchie and Nadir Ciftci, the youthful hosts pulled off a thoroughly-deserved victory.

A glance at the Blues’ teamsheet from that day reveals a line-up of Ward, Ritchie, Pack, Liam O’Brien, Nadir Ciftci, Luke Wilkinson, James Hurst, Tero Mantyla, Gael Nlundulu, Billy Goddard and Perry Ryan.

The goalkeeper was O’Brien, who made his Football League debut for Barnet nine months following his Pompey release.

He is currently the Dagenham & Redbridge number one and is set to line-up against his former club when the Daggers venture to Fratton Park on Tuesday night.

Ciftci presently appears for Dundee United in the Scottish Premiership, although received notoriety in December last year following a charge of ‘excessive misconduct at a match by placing an open hand into the lower area of the assistant referee’s throat’.

Regardless, he finished the campaign with 17 goals.

Central defender Wilkinson was released in the summer of 2010 and went on to make 71 appearances for Dagenham & Redbridge.

He was in the Daggers side who suffered a thumping 4-1 home defeat to Pompey in April.

Since then he has moved on to play for Luton.

Former England under-20 international Hurst finds himself in non-league football with Hednesford Town after a nomadic-like early career.

At the age of 22 he has already been at 11 different clubs, including two in Iceland, on his way to 56 English league and cup appearances.

Left-back Mantyla has developed into a Finland international and currently plays for Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad, who will play Liverpool on Tuesday.

He was a Pompey reserve regular for two seasons, suffering a broken leg at one point, but joined FC Inter Turku following his release at the end of the 2010 campaign.

Gael Nlundulu signed for Greece second division side Aris during that summer following swift spells at Lokomotiv Sofia (Bulgaria), Chernomorets Burgas (Bulgaria) and Lausanne-Sport (Switzerland).

The closest he got to a Blues appearance was in October 2009 as an unused substitute in the 4-0 Carling Cup victory at home to Stoke.

Billy Goddard’s promising career was wrecked following a cruciate ligament injury during a Pompey friendly against the Hawks in November 2010.

The Basingstoke-born midfielder never again featured for the Blues and is now a Chelsea season-ticket holder.

Ryan was part of Cotterill’s side who won the Edmonton Cup in Canada during a pre-season tour in the summer of 2010.

Released at the end of that season, he joined the Hawks and to date has made 129 appearances, scoring 11 goals.

Not that they need any introduction, but Ward is in the Premier League with Crystal Palace, Ritchie at Bournemouth and Pack with Bristol City.

Before today, they have 674 appearances and 79 goals between them in the league and cup.

On Tuesday, September 9, 2014, the reserves were back – Miles Storey, Andy Barcham and Ben Close netting in victory.

A welcome return for the Pompey aficionados – and also those promising young players within the system.

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