No need to mind the gap for Pompey Academy

Pompey Academy coach Mikey Harris. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey Academy coach Mikey Harris. Picture: Joe Pepler
Former Pompey player Eoin Hand, right

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Merit League Two has provided the stage for Pompey Academy’s during the second half of their campaign.

Yet Mikey Harris is adamant the gap has shown itself to be minimal.

The Blues’ youngsters finished sixth in the Youth Alliance South-West League standings upon January’s end.

In doing so, they missed out on a place in Merit League One on goal difference.

Now they find themselves in the unfamiliar surroundings of the second division of the league format which takes place during the second half of the campaign until May.

Harris’ side have won one and lost two of their opening three fixtures, including a 4-3 defeat at Northampton last weekend.

Yet the under-18s coach has not noticed much of a difference in quality between the divisions.

Harris said: ‘There is not necessarily a huge gap between the divisions, based on my experience.

‘The games are much of a muchness throughout, the difference is not necessarily down to quality.

‘What is noticeable is you can play one club’s youth team one week and when you meet again it can be an almost completely different side.

‘The quality of your opposition depends a lot on timing of other games.

‘For instance, we recently played Oxford United and knew some of our lads would be starting the Premier League Cup match against Everton under-23s a few days later.

‘So that impacts upon our selection – and you also see similar scenarios at other clubs.

‘Some clubs will make decisions early on releasing second-years and putting under-16s in their side to stretch and challenge them, something we have also done over the years.

‘Youth football is not like a first-team environment where you have a settled squad, it can be vastly different from one week to the next.’

Tommy Widdrington and Jez Bedford started the 2-1 reserve-team victory over Everton last month.

Yet it represented a far more youthful Toffees side than they encountered in December, with the likes of first-teamers Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Tom Davies featuring for the hosts.

Harris added: ‘We have a Category 3 Academy and when you look at the likes of Everton it is a completely different world.

‘Being a Category 1 club, they have under-23 and under-18 levels with probably a total of 40 players to select from.

‘But the great thing is, in the Premier League Cup we managed to compete with our model – and also ended up topping the group to reach the next stage.’