Close: Season so far shows Pompey are contenders

POMPEY have crossed the halfway point of the season.

Thursday, 28th December 2017, 9:00 am
Ben Close celebrates his goal against AFC Wimbledon. Picture: Joe Pepler

And the first 24 games of the League One campaign have underlined to Ben Close what the club’s ambition this term should be.

All the opposition have been tackled and the settling-in period under Kenny Jackett is over.

When weighing it all up, it all points to one target for the home-grown talent: Promotion.

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While large sections of Blues fans spoke of a season adapting in the third tier, most of the first-team players suggested hopes should be a little higher.

Close wasn’t so sure – but he is now.

‘At the start of the season with a new manager, you don’t really know where the bar is,’ the midfielder said.

‘We know where the bar is now and we can say we all want to be promoted again.

‘That’s what we’re aiming for – and that’s what we’re going to go for.

‘We’re learning as a team over the weeks and we’re learning about the league.

‘We’re getting used to playing with each other and there’s a good spirit within the team.

‘There’s a good work ethic and attitude among us.

‘The staff have said there’s a good spirit here and we do work for each other.

‘That’s why it’s coming together now.’

Lyle Taylor’s penalty prevented Pompey picking up their 12th clean sheet of the campaign in Boxing Day’s win over AFC Wimbledon.

But four clean sheets on the bounce before the Shrewsbury loss spoke of the progress being made as a defensive unit.

Close said: ‘We’re a lot more solid defensively.

‘When you get a new manager and players you need to start at the back and build from a solid base.

‘There’s a lot of hard work going on with shape. We’re learning our roles and responsibilities.

‘It’s a new manager so we’re learning our jobs.

‘It’s coming together, we’re looking solid and picking up clean sheets.’

Pompey face Northampton on Saturday with only goal difference separating them from the play-offs.

Seven of the past eight wins, which leave the Blues seventh in the table, have arrived by a single goal.

Close acknowledged that reflects how the team are operating in a less expansive manner than last season.

He said: ‘If you’re exposed in this league you will get punished if you get caught.

‘This year if you’re out of position you will get punished more.

‘Last season we were the best team in the league and could get away with being expansive.

‘We had the quality and know-how to recover where teams weren’t so quick going forward.

‘This year you’ll get punished more because there’s more quality in the league.

‘We’ve played against all sorts of formations and systems this year.

‘You tend to work it out as the game goes on.

‘But, as a team, we feel if we’re winning in the game we can go on and see it out.’