Much-maligned competition important to Portsmouth fringe players

The Checkatrade Trophy is much maligned by vast sections of the Fratton faithful.

Friday, 25th January 2019, 3:57 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 7:11 pm
Ben Close. Picture: Joe Pepler

But Ben Close admits that’s not the way Pompey’s fringe players view the competition.

Instead, they see it as an opportunity to get valuable minutes under their belt and a chance to impress Kenny Jackett. 

The academy product returned from an ankle injury in Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Peterborough, which booked the Blues a spot in the semi-finals against Bury.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Regardless, the Southsea midfielder has slipped down the pecking order this season.

Close has featured 17 times during the League One promotion push, but only eight have been starts.

He’s firmly behind Tom Naylor, likewise Ben Thompson before he was recalled by parent club Millwall. 

Close is also rivalling January recruits Andy Cannon and Bryn Morris – along with Dion Donohue and Adam May – for a berth in Jackett’s engine room.

With fierce rivalry for a starting spot, the Checkatrade Trophy provides those out of favour in the league with a way to maintain their sharpness. 

And they’re matches Close looks forward to.

He said: ‘It gives the lads on the fringes a chance to play.

‘That’s so important in terms of match fitness and being able to step in on Saturday in the league.

‘It gives players coming back from injury the chance to play.

‘Winning boosts confidence, too, no matter what the competition is.

‘For players to go out, play 90 minutes and get the win in a competitive game, that keeps the spirits up.

‘The players who don’t play in the league know they’ve got games coming in the cup. It’s nothing but good for the players.

‘This year we’ve got a big enough squad to field a strong team. The lads look forward to the games.’

Close felt his performance against the Posh highlighted he was lacking match fitness following a spell on the treatment table.

But now he’s looking to kick on and force his way into Jackett’s League One plans.

‘We’ve gone about our business in the group, won a lot of games and are pretty close now,’ added Close.

‘I want to play more games. It felt good to play Tuesday and get 90 minutes under my belt.

‘I didn’t feel so bad. I thought you could see I haven’t played in a while.

‘I did struggle a bit towards the end. I need to get fitter and match fitter.’

Pompey travel Luton on Tuesday night for their biggest game of the season so far.

It's a key clash in the race for promotion as the top-two sides in the division do battle.

The Blues have lost their past two League One games against Blackpool and Oxford United. 

But Close has insisted confidence remains high in the Fratton Park dressing room ahead of the trip to Kenilworth Road.

He said: ‘It’s been a tough couple of results and the performances haven’t been what you’d want them to be.

‘That’s something we now need to put behind us.

‘The atmosphere around the group is still good and the confidence is still there.

‘We just need to realise it’s two bad results and not the performances we wanted.

‘It doesn’t seem good when you have two bad results in row, but we have to remember that’s just a tiny part of the season.

‘If you’d said we’d be top of the league at this point we’d certainly take it.

‘So we have to put that behind us, and I’m sure we will.’