Barker’s challenge to young defender

Pompey defender Jack Whatmough made his England under-18 debut against Croatia at St George's Park on Wednesday Picture: Cleaven Faulkner
Pompey defender Jack Whatmough made his England under-18 debut against Croatia at St George's Park on Wednesday Picture: Cleaven Faulkner
Pompey midfielder Ben Close Picture: Joe Pepler

Gaffer: Pompey better with Close in the middle

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Jack Whatmough has been challenged to use his England youth debut as a catalyst for more success.

The 18-year-old defender turned in a solid display, played 90 minutes and hit the crossbar for the England under-18s in their 2-1 defeat to Croatia on Wednesday.

And Blues boss Richie Barker now wants to see the Gosport teenager use it as motivation to nail down a regular place in the Pompey side over the coming years.

Barker, who was there to see Whatmough in action at St George’s Park, said: ‘It was a proud day for his family. I was with his mum, dad and his uncle.

‘I’m sure they were extremely proud and I was as well to be standing with all the representatives of all the Premier League clubs and to be there from Portsmouth. I thought he did okay. What he did, he did pretty well.

‘It’s been a big year for him but we can’t rest on that. We need to push him on and keep him moving forward.

‘He’s had a few first-team games, he signed a new deal, now England recognition and nearly a goal. He’s done well but now we want to see his development continue.’

In his four first-team appearances this term, Whatmough has shown he is well capable of coping with the physical demands.

Barker felt that helped him stand out among his England team-mates and believes the youngster could yet return to the first-team ranks before the end of the season, having not featured since New Year’s Day.

‘Physically, he was quite a way above most of them and he was one of the youngest as well,’ said Barker.

‘He could play before the end of the season. If he does the right things and it’s justified, then he will play.

‘We’ve got a lot of centre-backs but they should be looking over their shoulders knowing if they don’t do their job, someone else will do it.’

A knee niggle has limited Whatmough’s opportunities in recent weeks, while Barker has also opted to go with more experienced players.

But the Blues boss is delighted with the work of his Academy staff in producing quality youngsters.

Barker added: ‘Due to what’s happened to the first team over the past three years, some of the youngsters have been thrown in and you sink or swim.

‘Some of them have really swam and it’s testimony to the people who have put the work in with them.

‘We have got to make sure that continues and they don’t become players who play for England in the youth ages and then fizzle out.

‘It’s something like only 10 per cent of England youth players who go on to play in the Premier League.

‘We need to make sure that we have got a few in our ranks that go on and make a living out of the game.

‘You have to keep working on them, keep them hungry and ensure they don’t lose their motivation and get given too much, too soon.’