Close is free from injury and full of Pompey ambition
Rejuvenated Ben Close is aiming to kick on with his Blues career after finally overpowering his injury niggles.
By his own admission, the 21-year-old’s Pompey progress has been hampered by recurring hamstring issues.
The frustrating problem has restricted the central midfielder to just two league outings since February 2016.
However, Close believes he is now over the complaint and will tonight bid to demonstrate his first-team credentials.
He will start the Checkatrade Trophy clash with Fulham under-21s (7.45pm) as Kenny Jackett rotates his playing squad.
And the Fratton lad is relishing being unleashed injury-free and with confidence high.
Close said: ‘Injury has held me back, 100 per cent. Previously I was never really feeling fully fit.
‘Even in training, when coming back from those injuries, I wasn’t really feeling myself and that was holding me back.
‘I was not training to my potential and then going into matches not feeling 100 per cent. It only changed at the back end of last season when I was at Eastleigh and started playing 90 minute games every week.
‘It was an eccentric strength issue in my hamstrings, they were pretty weak so we did a lot of strengthening work, a lot of flexibility work, and I’m still doing that now.
‘Over the years maybe there was an imbalance there and it was quite hard to pinpoint because it was a recurring issue.
‘Trying to find the problem was tough and frustrating because it had been lasting quite a while. It has taken time and a lot of hard work, but hopefully they are okay now.
‘At the moment I feel as good as ever.’
Close made his Blues bow in September 2014, appearing as a substitute at Yeovil in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
There was even a run of six successive starts during Paul Cook’s first Fratton Park season in 2015-16.
However, the midfielder made just one league squad last season – and failed to make any appearances as the team raced to the title.
Instead, all four of his outings arrived in cup competition during that League Two-winning campaign.
Close signed a new 12-month deal this summer, although Adam May has edged ahead in the central-midfield battle.
Still, he appeared as a substitute at Cardiff in the Carabao Cup and is now in line to feature tonight.
‘Playing matches like the Checkatrade is the way you are going to get into the starting side for league games,’ added Close.
‘Players don’t look at it the same way as the fans.
‘A lot of fans aren’t too happy with the way the trophy is run and how it is set up, but as a player it’s another chance to play a game against good opposition, impress the manager and try to claim a first-team spot.
‘Hopefully I can do that.’