Mark Kelly has challenged Pompey’s Academy players to recapture their best form this weekend at Dagenham & Redbridge (11am).
The Blues’ under-18s side make their Merit League 2 bow in east London, eager to address a three-game losing streak at the end of their Youth Alliance League south west division campaign.
The motivation for a response is unquestionable, with Pompey’s talented teenagers only too aware that decisions upon which members of the group will be handed professional deals are reaching their conclusion.
And Academy boss Kelly has told the Blues’ youngsters, in no uncertain terms, to seize the moment.
He said: ‘It’s an interesting one – at the end of the Youth Alliance League season, as a group, they had a bit of a dip in form.
‘The boys have been challenged to step up and get their form back to the way it was at the beginning of the season again.
‘It’s nice for them to have that challenge among themselves to go out and actually start achieving again the things they know they can.
‘They are all vying for something – it’s a big part of the season for them.
‘Individually and as a group they have to go out and achieve again because we all know what they are vying for.
‘They are vying to see if they can stay in the club, become young professionals and away they go.
‘They’ve all got a lot to achieve so that is what they are striving to do.
‘I am sure we will get that kind of reaction from them now they are back in with us this week.’
Kelly was given a glimpse of the future last Saturday when Pompey Academy elected to play a team omitting all second-year scholars in a 3-3 friendly draw with Luton.
And with five 15-year-olds given game time in what served as an under-17s fixture, it proved to be a worthwhile occasion for all concerned.
Kelly said: ‘Progression, opportunities, chances and challenges all came together.
‘We had five under-15 players playing in that under-17s game.
‘It’s good to be out of your comfort zone now and that’s a message we will always push.
‘It was an enjoyable game and nice to see the 15-year-old lads really stretching themselves by playing two years above themselves but they came out of it with lots of pluses.
‘I saw some very good performances from some of them and none of them shied away from the challenge which was brilliant.’
Pompey Academy have no new injury concerns ahead of Saturday’s visit to the Daggers.
– JEFF MARSHMAN