Sports Mail Comment: Rare Academy success - and how we all should celebrate

Pompey's Academy recruits who signed on last summer
Pompey's Academy recruits who signed on last summer

COMMENT: University has to prove it offers value for money

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It might have escaped some people’s attention.

After all, the feat occurred on the very same day Pompey picked up their first win in 11 matches.

A 2-0 win at Doncaster, a first clean sheet since December 11 and, understandably, there was only one subject hogging the headlines.

Yet, there it was, struggling to push a way through the pack in a bid to deservedly step into the limelight.

Portsmouth Academy 2 Southampton Academy 1.

Talk about good news being buried away on a good news days.

The accomplishment was published in The News on Monday, quoting the architect of the triumph, manager Andy Awford.

Interestingly, it was an article which drew just three comments on our website.

And one of those was from the paper’s work experience boy who sneaked away to register a view.

Not that people aren’t interested in the Academy. Far from it.

It’s just that other issues have been the dominant force in something of an encouraging week at Portsmouth Football Club.

And it’s not often that has been said in recent years.

Still, we should all be embracing any positive tit-bits that come out at the moment – and that includes the Academy.

After all, that is part of the club which has endured a particularly wretched past few years lately.

The fact the identity of the side they defeated last week was Southampton merely adds a wonderful gloss to proceedings.

Although, let’s not forget, this is just one Academy result.

There is no title which has been won, no cup which has been lifted.

It won’t go down in Pompey folklore, while fans won’t be toasting the achievement years down the line.

Nonetheless, it marks a crucial first tentative step on the road towards hope.

And how the youth set-up needs it.

This is an Academy which has been in serious decline for the past few so very bleak years.

Gnawed to the bone and stripped of funding and coaching resources, it is an embodiment of how this club has deteriorated in the face of mismanagement.

Understandable then that heading into that Southampton clash, Awford’s youngsters were 15 points adrift at the bottom of the Premier Academy League group A table.

With 14 defeats in 16 league matches, results-wise, they were the second worst side in all four group divisions.

Only Milton Keynes Dons’ record of no wins and three points from 18 matches can possibly beat that.

In contrast, their opponents and fierce local rivals topped the table with plenty of games in hand.

Southampton had marched ahead of the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and West Ham to develop quite a lead in the race for the title.

Understandably, Awford’s side were given little chance of seizing anything from the encounter.

How wrong we all were.

Sam Hoskins may have presented Southampton with a first-half lead at the Wellington Sports Ground, but there was an upset in the air.

An Ashley Harris free-kick ensured the scoreline was all-square at the interval.

Then, Ryan Williams converted Carl Walshe’s pass 10 minutes from time for a glorious winner.

It prompted scenes later described by Awford as ‘a couple of people jumping up and down as if they’d won the World Cup’.

An excusable reaction considering it was just the fourth league win by an Academy side since September 27, 2009.

Not that their new manager is interested in getting swept away by one result.

Awford knows only too well the importance of maintaining a perspective and keeping expectations in check.

He certainly doesn’t want people over-reacting to beating the league leaders and local rivals, to boot.

Except, it is hard not to become a little bit giddy by last Saturday’s result.

And I don’t mean the win at Doncaster, either.

We all remember those heady Academy days under Paul Hart – days when millions was spent attracting top talent from England and France to the club.

Youngsters were given reported £1,800-a-week pay packets, put up in hotels. Some even had their families moved across to the area from France.

The likes of Gael Nlundulu, Pablo Navas Alors, Gautier Mahoto, Florent Cuvelier and Lenny Sowah arrived from Europe with tremendous reputations.

Now they’ve gone, all gone.

Liam O’Brien – an expensive acquisition from QPR – was released this season after failing to convince. He is now with Barnet, where he made five appearances in League Two last month as he looks to kick-start his career.

As for James Hurst, he has gone on to play Premier League football this season.

He moved back to former club West Brom in August for a small fee and has since played three times in all competitions for their first team.

Then there is Paris Cowan-Hall, who opted not to sign a further month-to-month contract last summer.

After a raft of trials across the country, he was snapped up by Scunthorpe.

He made a substitute appearance against Watford last month and was loaned to Rushden & Diamonds for a month this week.

Fittingly, that was the very club Hart recruited him from in July 2007 – along with Callum Reynolds.

At least Tom Kilbey and Nadir Ciftci remain from that era.

Then again, Kilbey has made just three substitute appearances this season and is out of contract in the summer.

As for Ciftci, he has turned down a new Blues deal and will walk out on the club for Fenerbahce at the end of the season.

The current Academy crop are a sprinkling of Australians amid local talent. No transfers fees paid, no hefty pay packets distributed.

Inevitability, it’s a completely different direction headed from the days of Hart and Paul Smalley.

But Awford is definitely the man for the job – a job which has already begun in encouraging fashion.

They often say it is not about results in youth football, more about the development of players.

Well, the past few years the club have failed miserably in both categories.

That is why we should all be enthused when we see the Academy defeat a side sitting at the top of the league.

As we all know, it doesn’t happen every day.