Awford urges Pompey prospect not to lose focus

Andy Awford has warned Ashley Harris not to become complacent over his first-team emergence at Pompey.

And the Blues great has challenged the youngster to build on his eye-catching start next season.

Awford was aged just 16 when he made his Pompey debut against Crystal Palace in April 1989.

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At the time he was the youngest player to appear for the club, only for Gary O’Neil to take the record a few years later.

Awford went on to make 361 appearances before retiring through injury in November 2000.

Nowadays, he is Academy manager and oversaw Harris’ progress as he burst into the first team at the tail-end of the campaign.

At 18, there are already high hopes heaped upon the winger, who has been presented with a first-year professional contact for next season.

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And Awford has stressed the importance of the Purbrook youngster not letting his focus become distracted.

He said: ‘It is a big season for Ashley next year and he has got to kick on.

‘I said to him the other day that in my first year as an apprentice, I was aged 16 and played four first-team matches.

‘In my second year I didn’t play a game.

‘Then after that year, we got stuck in under Jim Smith when all the youngsters were given a regular run out.

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‘He should not just expect to get a game. He has really got to knuckle down.

‘Ashley got a bit of a rocket off me at the start of the season.

‘He has all the ability in the world, we know that, but he was not quite focused.

‘I left him out of the Academy team at Manchester United in August. Instead he was a substitute. We won that match 2-1.

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‘It was a way of saying to him that he could not just turn up and play – he still had a lot to do. Since then the penny has dropped, he knuckled down.

‘His performance in the FA Youth Cup against Bristol City was phenomenal – and in front of a few members of first-team staff.

‘This is just the start, though. Ashley must kick on and increase the amount of games he starts.’

Harris started the last two matches of Pompey’s season following several encouraging substitute cameos.

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In total he made five appearances for his home-town club to whet the appetite of the Fratton faithful.

Awford, though, is keen to emphasise that people should not get carried away.

He added: ‘Ashley is not ready for 46 games but must not drop away.

‘He has got to come back pre-season and strike the gaffer between the eyes with how he performs.

‘I am sure he will get the right advice and will look to push on because the lad really has got talent.

‘It’s got to be a gradual thing, though.’