Mark Kelly praised Pompey Academy’s defensive resilience after the Blues recorded a first clean sheet of the season in their 3-0 win over Newport County on Saturday.
The Furze Lane outfit have been in fine scoring form this campaign – notching 30 goals in 12 games in all competitions – but until the weekend had failed in their quest to shut out an opponent.
A stunning first-half strike from Lewis Gill and double from substitute Conor Chaplin ensured their unbeaten run in the Youth Alliance League south-west division was stretched to five games.
But it was a dogged defensive display, exemplified by a stunning point-blank save from goalkeeper Alex Bass with the scoreline at 1-0, that delighted onlooking Academy boss Kelly.
He said: ‘We went to Cheltenham the week before (a 6-1 victory) and were unable to get the clean sheet – a few mistakes happened and a couple of things went on that we focused on putting right in training.
‘I asked the players before the Newport game to learn to become resilient and to keep clean sheets because they are a big and important part of football.
‘Bassy played his part in achieving that on Saturday with a great reaction at a crucial part in the game.
‘But that’s what keepers are there for – to do their job when called upon.
‘It was good to see the clean sheet arrive – the players worked hard for that.’
Despite their mid-table standing, the Blues now boast the best goal difference in the division.
But while they have recorded some emphatic victories this season, Kelly believes the psychological boost of registering a maiden shut-out will bring them just as much confidence.
He said: ‘It’s important for a back four.
‘They’ve gone out and won games 6-1 and 5-2 and 4-1 this season but getting in that mindset of going into a game and believing “we are going to keep a clean sheet today” is important.
‘It’s pleasing because that was a target they really wanted to achieve.’
Kelly also reserved praise for his side’s attacking prowess, although he believes there is still more to come from the division’s leading scorers and they can do more in front of goal.
‘The pace and the rotational movement going forward is there for all to see – but it can always be better,’ he said.
‘We are talking about the finite, intricate bits in the final third, such as getting the pass in front of someone rather than just behind.
‘They are starting to understand the mechanics but they could’ve had another three or four.’
Pompey Academy will bid to earn a second successive clean sheet when they host Torquay at Furze Lane on Saturday (midday).