Blues reserves emerge battle-hardened

Ben Close impressed on his latest run out for the reserves, scoring a 47th-minute equaliser after Newport took a first-half lead Picture: Allan Hutchings
Ben Close impressed on his latest run out for the reserves, scoring a 47th-minute equaliser after Newport took a first-half lead Picture: Allan Hutchings
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Anyone who saw the recent first-team clash between the clubs will not have been remotely surprised by Newport County’s approach to this reserve encounter.

The Welsh club’s style would certainly not be one to get the purists drooling.

But what they do is effective, basic and yields results – and that same style was evident as Pompey staged a first reserve clash at their new Roko training ground.

With boss Andy Awford, chairman Iain McInnes and chief executive Mark Catlin among those watching on from the sidelines, some of the Blues fans might also have noticed Shaun North – one of those rumoured to be a potential candidate to replace Alan McLoughlin on the first-team coaching staff.

Of course, his attendance may well have been a complete coincidence.

But away from the coaching reshuffle, this fixture will have provided some ideal experience for Pompey’s youngsters who were probably reaching for ice packs at the final whistle.

There was aggression aplenty, intimidation and an underlying tone of niggly nastiness, with former Fratton Park left-back Justin Edinburgh’s reserve team built in his own image.

As a player, he was a gutsy competitor who gave everything and would never take a backward step against more gifted opponents.

Yesterday, his verbal volleys from the touchline towards referee Matthew Lee, who didn’t always appear to have full control of the game, was all the evidence you needed that he hasn’t mellowed since moving into management.

At one stage, he even issued a few thoughts towards the returning Danny East in his 30-minute cameo after a long battle back from a pelvic problem.

It’s fair to suggest that the pleasantries were few and far between when East had a few words back of his own.

Regardless, it was a useful workout for a Pompey team, with Joe Devera and Adam Webster both getting 45 minutes to continue their recoveries from injury.

Pompey started the more brightly and Ricky Holmes was unlucky to see a powerful shot palmed over inside the first two minutes, after Ben Close opted to pass when he was well-placed himself.

But the Blues fell behind on 16 minutes when Johnny Ertl hauled back Chris Zebrowski on his way to goal.

Had it been a first-team game, the Austrian would probably have been shown a red card, but the referee appeared to strike a compromise by reaching for the yellow card and pointing to the spot – even though the foul appeared to take place outside the area.

Zebrowski duly despatched the spot-kick, although keeper Michael Poke almost kept it out as he got a hand to the low strike.

Nick Awford and Adam Chapman were then involved in an off-the-ball altercation but, again, the referee chose to issue just a warning.

With the young strike partnership of Conor Chaplin and Lewis Gill having their moments, the latter saw a shot parried by Newport keeper Lenny Pidgeley, after he bustled through into the box.

Alex Wynter powered a free header from a corner straight at the keeper and some inviting deliveries from the impressive Holmes were crying out for a finishing touch as Pompey attempted to find the leveller before the interval.

The Blues made a double substitution at the break, with Webster replacing Devera – both of whom came through unscathed after their run outs – while East replaced Holmes, who was taken off as a precaution with a tight thigh muscle.

And the move paid instant dividends, with East’s exuberance at being back on a pitch seeing him make something out of a Webster ball to feed Close, who cracked home a classy finish into the far corner from the edge of the box.

Chaplin then put Pompey ahead soon afterwards, putting Pidgeley under pressure as he attempted to clear and stealing possession to tap home into an empty net.

Edinburgh and the County team were raging at the referee that play had not been stopped, with one of their players down with an ankle injury.

But there was certainly no reason for the match official to stop proceedings – and there was ample opportunity for the keeper to launch it into touch before Chaplin nipped in to strike.

The 17-year-old, who signed a professional deal recently, is raw but certainly has something about him, with a streak of aggression and some bright movement and neat touches on display.

At just 17 years of age, it is perhaps too soon to throw him into first-team action at the moment.

But, on this evidence, he will get his opportunity before the season is out.

The youngster might have put the game to bed after 16-year-old Brandon Joseph-Baudi’s clever reverse pass inside the box, only for the striker to poke his shot wide.

And another youngster, left-back Brandon Haunstrup, almost capped an assured display with an enterprising run that might have ended with a goal.

Considering it has been such a lengthy spell out for East, he looked good in his half-an-hour run out on the right wing, before he was replaced by Kaleem Haitham for the final 15 minutes.

Webster was then called upon to make a fine last-ditch challenge to deny Zebrowski an equaliser, before Gill went close with a sharp turn and shot at goal.

But Newport had the final say when Curtis Obeng was shoved over inside the box and the referee awarded a second penalty, which Rene Howe confidently tucked away.

POMPEY RESERVES: Poke, Wynter, Devera (Webster, 46), Ertl, Haunstrup, Holmes (East, 46 (Haitham, 75), Awford, Close, Gill, Chaplin. Subs not used: George, Nilssen.