Academy claim share of the spoils on Merit League bow

Kaleem Haitham, centre.  Picture: Neil Marshall
Kaleem Haitham, centre. Picture: Neil Marshall
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MIKEY HARRIS praised Pompey Academy’s defensive resilience as they began life in the Merit League 1 division with a hard-fought 0-0 draw against Stevenage.

The Blues’ maiden appearance in the new 12-team format – comprising the best teams from the Youth Alliance League’s south-west and south-east divisions – was not one that will live long in the memory, though.

A war of attrition ensured little goalmouth action at Furze Lane as both sides matched each other in a fiercely-contested midfield battle.

But for coach Harris, who was deprived of four second-year scholars in light of the club’s impending behind-closed-doors friendly at Woking on Monday, the stalemate represented a valuable point against a tricky opponent.

He said: ‘A lot of praise goes to the lads for the character they showed in difficult conditions against a tough side.

‘Out of possession, I was really pleased with the way we dealt with Stevenage’s strengths.

‘We expected them to be a big, physical side who asked a lot of questions of us from set-pieces and deliveries into the box – and they certainly did that.

‘The nice thing for me, though, was that Bassy (goalkeeper Alex Bass), fresh from his reserve-team game in the week, was given a lot of confidence to go and dominate at this level and showed that today.

’We had a young back four that started for the first half – with a first start for Dory (Yates) who was returning from his injury.

‘Then we changed and brought in two under-16s players and the back four who started the second half was two 15-year-olds, one 16-year-old and a 17-year-old.

‘I think that speaks volumes for the clean sheet, which is really, really pleasing.’

The Blues’ best chance of the entire game arrived straight from the kick-off when skipper James Granger fired straight at visiting keeper Tyler Reading from the edge of the box.

A sign of things to come followed, though, when five balls cleared the perimeter wall inside the opening 15 minutes.

The Boro’ then had the better of the remainder of the half with defender Ryan Johnson twice denied from successive corners, firstly through a fine finger-tip save from keeper Bass and then through Calvin Davies’ goal-line clearance.

The Blues were at their best on the flanks, with Kaleem Haitham and Brandon Joseph-Buadi a handful but the duo’s endeavour was not rewarded in clear-cut chances.

And as the game wore on, it appeared more likely Stevenage would claim the all-important breakthrough.

Visiting skipper Dale 
Gorman was the best player on the park and his incisive through-ball freed the lively George Casey – but Bass again was smartly down to make the save.

Both chances and entertainment were then at a premium, though, as an impressive rearguard action from the youthful hosts delivered a point and a hard-earned clean sheet.

Pompey Academy: Bass, Davies (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 60), Yates (Saidy, 46), May, (Widdrington, 46) McDowell, Joseph-Buadi, Rwakarambwe, Granger, Haitham, Gill, Sayers