Harris pesters pal to set up memorable Memorial trip for Academy

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Pompey midfielder Carl Baker Picture: Joe Pepler

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POMPEY ACADEMY have added incentive to begin 2015 with a win after Mikey Harris used his footballing contacts to land a plum trip to Bristol Rovers’ Memorial Stadium on Saturday (10.30am).

The Blues had been expected to play their Youth Alliance League south west division clash at the Gas youngsters’ regular venue, The Hallen Centre – home of Western League premier division side AFC Hallen.

But Rovers first-team boss Darrell Clarke stepped in to switch the fixture to the 11,916 capacity Mem, at the request of close friend and former colleague Harris.

The duo linked up at Salisbury City, where Harris played alongside Clarke before working as his second-in-command at the club.

Indeed, when Clarke left his post at the Whites for Rovers in the summer of 2013 after winning the Conference South play-off final, Harris replaced him in the hot seat aged just 28, to become English football’s youngest full-time manager.

A move to Pompey Academy followed at the start of this season and Harris explained how his friendly pestering paid off.

He said: ‘The good news is that Bristol Rovers have given us permission to play at the proper ground.

‘It’s fortunate for me that their first-team manager is the former boss of Salisbury and I was his assistant.

‘He is a very close friend of mine so I said to him: “Come on Daz you haven’t got a game for a few weeks – let us play on the pitch!”

‘He’s given us permission to do so – weather permitting.

‘So hopefully we don’t get horrendous weather between now and then to scupper it.’

Harris welcomed the Academy back to training last Friday after a two-week Christmas break.

And having played out a 3-3 draw in the reverse fixture at the start of the season, the Academy coach is under no illusions that his players will have to work hard for a positive result.

He said: ‘A lot of the lads haven’t played for a couple of weeks, so the key thing for me is that they put in a good performance and work hard.

‘They need to get themselves back into the swing of things very quickly because Bristol Rovers are a good side – but you want challenging games.

‘For me, the harder the better, so we are relishing the challenge.’

Meanwhile, Academy captain Brandon Haunstrup has joined Chad Field at Bognor to help solve a defensive crisis at the Ryman League premier division side.

Mutually beneficial youth loan deals means the second-year scholars are able to taste senior football while also being eligibile to play for Harris’ Blues side.

They are both available for selection this weekend, although the Academy will await Andy Awford’s decision on Conor Chaplin’s first-team involvement, ahead of the trip to the Memorial Stadium.