Jackett’s Academy faith rewarded in Portsmouth Wembley charge

Pompey stand one step away from a Wembley return.

By Neil Allen
Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, 10:56 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 6:36 pm
Dan Smith is one of six youngsters to be handed Pompey debuts in the Checkatrade Trophy this season. Picture: Joe Pepler
Dan Smith is one of six youngsters to be handed Pompey debuts in the Checkatrade Trophy this season. Picture: Joe Pepler

And at the core of the club’s Checkatrade Trophy progress have been six teenagers.

The Blue have never before travelled such a distance in the competition under its various guises, yet now possess a semi-final spot.

Kenny Jackett has overseen such an achievement by employing largely fringe players – and teenagers Matt Casey, Dan Smith, Haji Mnoga, Bradley Lethbridge, Freddie Read and Leon Maloney.

It’s an approach which contrasts with recent opponents Southend and Peterborough, who instead focused on experience.

Nonetheless, Pompey have beaten both to maintain momentum in the tournament.

This season has produced six senior debuts, of which four are presently within the Academy.

As for graduates Casey and Smith, they are classed as third-year scholars, a fresh term which enables swift loans and recalls.

The pair both started Tuesday evening’s 1-0 victory over the Posh, with Casey, in particular, afterwards earning the praise of Jackett.

That represented the central defender’s third Pompey start, having made his bow in December’s 2-1 win over Arsenal under-21s.

The towering 19-year-old has partnered Christian Burgess during that time, keeping a clean sheet in two of them, as his impressive development continues.

As for Smith, he was recalled from the Rocks to feature and will now return to Nyewood Lane, once again emphasising the flexibility of being regarded as a third-year scholar.

His first-team entrance in the Checkatrade Trophy was initially held up by injury, but was handed a start at Southend earlier this month, albeit in an unfamiliar right-back role.

Still, he earned an assist in that 2-0 victory, providing the cross for Louis Dennis’ Roots Hall opener.

On Tuesday evening, the lad from Bursledon operated as a lone striker, featuring for 58 minutes before replaced by Dennis.

Mnoga, a first-year scholar, was also handed a third start in that Peterborough clash, named at right-back.

In October he became Pompey’s second-youngest debutant during the post-war era when he lined-up at Crawley in the group stages.

Then aged 16 years, five months and 24 days, he has gone on to face Spurs under-21s and now the Posh, representing precious first-team experience.

The remaining three Academy products turning out for Jackett’s team this season are second-year scholars, whose futures will be finalised as the campaign reaches its close.

Lethbridge, who like Smith is enjoying a productive loan spell at the Rocks, started against Spurs under-21s and Southend.

The Gosport striker has six goals in five Academy appearances this term – and nine goals in 24 outings at Nyewood Lane.

Read, a midfielder, started against Arsenal under-21s and entered as a substitute in the trip to Southend.

Hailing from Southsea, he was included on Pompey’s tour to Cork last summer, along with Smith and Joe Dandy.

Completing the trio of second-year scholars to be handed Blues bows during the campaign is Maloney.

The winger, and brother of former player Jack, came off the bench at Southend to make his debut aged 17.

And while the Checkatrade Trophy has its critics, youth has been impressively prevalent during this record-breaking progress.