Home-grown and hungry, let’s hope Ash is back soon

Ashley Harris celebrates his strike against Crawley a year ago. Picture: Allan Hutchings (122969-725)
Ashley Harris celebrates his strike against Crawley a year ago. Picture: Allan Hutchings (122969-725)

Home closure will give residents some respite

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It was Steve Allen who recently summed up Ashley Harris so beautifully.

He painted the metaphorical scene of the Purbrook youngster returning home from a hard Pompey training session, walking into his lounge and snubbing the Xbox and PlayStation situated in front of him.

Instead, he headed off to the back garden, opened the shed and took out a football.

Tucking it under his arm, he proceeded to knock on the doors of his friends to see if anybody fancied a kickabout on the local playing fields.

Harris in a nutshell, according to the Blues’ assistant manager.

Said with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, nonetheless an analogy which reflects the forward’s insatiable appetite for football.

The 19-year-old may have drifted away from the Pompey first-team picture after 34 games and three goals, yet there remains a player desperate to succeed in the career he loves.

A lad who retains that boyish enthusiasm and infectious attitude, yet is presently enduring a frustrating period in his fledgling footballing life.

Harris needs a break – and how every Pompey fan stands by his side in wishing it to arrive.

Which is why Westleigh Park offers the perfect opportunity for him to provide a kick-start to both his ambitions and a confidence.

A month at the Hawks could become priceless in the development of a naturally-gifted player whose once encouraging progress has stalled.

As an environment it certainly helped stoke the careers of Dan Butler and Alex Grant – the latter subsequently earning a two-year deal at Stoke.

Similarly, Ryan Bird this week clinched a one-month loan move in the search of regular football.

It was March 20, 2012, when Harris burst on to the first-team scene with a one-minute debut from the bench against Birmingham.

The Fratton end sung ‘One Ashley Harris’ to mark the occasion, and suddenly he was in the fans’ consciousness.

The forward’s next appearance would be little more than three weeks later at Doncaster and a cameo which would excite for football reasons.

Pompey were 2-0 down at half-time in a match which would see the losers become the first team in the Football League to be relegated in the 2011-12 campaign.

Enter Harris, positioned on the right flank where his energy, enthusiasm and fearless approach helped inspire the visitors into a stunning fightback.

Dave Kitson levelled at 3-3 in the 90th minute – then Marko Futacs netted three minutes into time added on for an improbable result.

Appleton had blooded the forward in the first place, having spotting him shining brightest of all for Pompey in a 5-1 FA Youth Cup victory over Bristol City the previous December.

Following that Doncaster match, Harris featured a total of 19 times in the next 23 matches under the former West Brom assistant head coach, as well as earning a new two-year deal that summer.

Appleton was an admirer, he rated the technical ability of a player who could genuinely operate with either foot and, although not possessing lightning pace, was blessed with wonderful skill and vision.

They are tantalising attributes still very much with Harris and ones which could yet establish him as a key Pompey player in the future.

Even when Appleton didn’t start Harris, he recognised how his introduction off the bench could galvanise the crowd and lift the atmosphere.

He became an impact player, unquestionably more effective as a substitute rather than a starter.

Upon Appleton’s defection to Blackpool, Guy Whittingham stepped in and, for his first match at Bury, awarded Harris only his second league start of the season, partnering Izale McLeod in attack.

Whittingham’s long association with the club through coaching ensured he had witnessed he youngster rise through the ranks.

Harris continued to remain part of the first-team set-up with a six-game spell from the turn of the year where he would start four times.

Once Patrick Agyemang and John Akinde arrived in February, though, for the last 16 matches of the season he would feature in just five of them, including a goal-scoring start in the final-day defeat at Shrewsbury.

Incidentally, that is his most recent appearance for Pompey.

Of course, with Harris there are on-going debates over his most effective position, while he himself has admitted he returned for the 2012 pre-season overweight.

There are those at the club who feel he was hyped too much by The News in those early days and had too much pressure piled on top of him.

Yet, as a home-grown player, particularly among such bleak times, he represented a beacon of hope to supporters, one of their own basking in the first-team spotlight.

Harris is a shy lad, uncomfortable giving interviews and the public glare being a footballer attracts.

He just wants to play – and let’s hope he will do that again at Pompey very, very soon.