BEN CLOSE has been challenged to seize his Pompey opportunity.
But Paul Cook believes patience has to be shown with the promising Blues midfielder.
Close is vying to start his third game on the bounce against Leyton Orient at Fratton Park tomorrow.
That’s after the 19-year-old again impressed as he started his first league game under Cook at Morecambe.
Close also stood out with his economical use of the ball against Premier League Bournemouth last weekend in the FA Cup.
Cook explained the Fratton talent nearly went out on loan to Barnet earlier in the season.
Now, though, Close is being given the chance to shine in a Pompey shirt.
‘Ben’s such a good player,’ said the manager.
‘He was going to get an opportunity earlier in the season but got injured.
‘He was going to go to Barnet and get some games under his belt but got injured.
‘Ben’s got a lot of qualities in a central midfielder we like.
‘He’s one we’ve been waiting to put into the team.
‘Sometimes when results go well, or whatever it is, there are reasons they don’t get in.
‘Now Ben has an opportunity to lay down a marker, show he’s a central midfielder and stay in the team.
‘He plays how we play. The lads require the ball into them for service.
‘Ben’s very good at supplying the ball.
‘He’s just a very good player. He has a toughness about him. He’s definitely tough.
‘Ben can handle himself and doesn’t shirk any responsibilities.
‘He’s brave at receiving the ball in tight areas.
‘He’s a young lad, who, if he works hard at his game, can have a very good career.’
The backing for Pompey’s youngsters has been strong from supporters all season.
Cook underlined that needs to remain the case as the stakes rise in the bid for promotion.
He said: ‘It’s important, when the likes of Ben makes a mistake now and again, we must back them.
‘We want our own players.
‘Young Brandon Haunstrup hasn’t really played, and young Conor Chaplin hasn’t had enough minutes on the pitch.
‘Ben Close has only really played in Cup games this season. They are the type we want here.
‘Ryan (Fulton) is a good kid and Matt Clarke is the same.
‘These lads are first in the training ground of a morning to do their gym work.
‘That’s when you get your rewards. You get your rewards for what you do Monday to Friday and not just Saturday.
‘We’re quite lucky we have a nice balance.
‘The pleasing thing is we are supporting our players when they are playing well.
‘The reality is, moving forward it will get nervy and edgy. That’s what run-ins are.
‘We’ve got to stay with it. It’s huge we stay with it.’