Pompey midfielder challenged to Close gap

Pompey midfielder Ben Close Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey midfielder Ben Close Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey striker Conor Chaplin Picture: Paul Currie

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Paul Cook has challenged Ben Close to force his way into his Pompey team.

That’s after the Blues boss handed the 20-year-old midfielder the captain’s armband for Tuesday night’s 1-0 Checkatrade Trophy win against Bristol Rovers.

Regular skipper Michael Doyle was rested for the tie at Fratton Park.

The former Republic of Ireland international, though, is expected to regain both the captaincy and his starting role for today’s League Two visit of Mansfield (3pm).

And Close, who finds himself below Doyle, Danny Rose and the suspended Amine Linganzi in the defensive-midfield pecking order, knows he has his work cut out to earn a starting role.

Cook, however, was happy to reward the Academy graduate, from Fratton, for his hard work on the training ground with a start and the captaincy against Rovers.

‘It is nice for a local lad to be given the armband, it’s good for him,’ said Cook.

‘He is a nice lad and a really good kid and I have got a lot of time for him.

‘That’s just a little bit of a reward for how hard he works.

‘But he has got to force his way in.

‘At every club the young lads – especially at a club like ours – have got to have that belief they are the best.

‘That comes then when you get your opportunities – you back it up.

‘Ben has got the attributes to be a really good player.

‘It is up to him how he does that from here.’

Close made eight appearances for Pompey in League Two last season, including their play-off semi-final defeat at Plymouth.

But after an injury-hit start to the campaign, he has failed to play a single minute of league football so far this term, with all four of his Blues outings arriving in cup competitions.

And with Pompey now only challenging on one front, he faces a difficult task of displacing Doyle, Rose or Linganzi in Cook’s thoughts.

Close’s contract is up in the summer, meaning the fans’ favourite needs to underline his worth sooner rather than alter.

Cook, though, hinted he views Close as a potential long-term successor to 35-year-old mentor Doyle, whose deal also ends at the end of the season.

‘Michael Doyle is at an age where he is not going to play forever,’ added Cook.

‘And Ben Close is at an age where he has got to develop.

‘But the senior players are here to help the young lads – and if you get the right buzz around your club, everything else should take care of itself.

‘It’s about who is in the gym first thing of a morning and how much work they are doing in the afternoon.

‘How much do they practise and what are they trying to do to try to be a better player?

‘If you haven’t done extra work during the week then come the weekend you are not going to be a better player.

‘And for all of our players it is about being fit and ready.’