Harris: Academy’s Merit bow to be savoured not feared

Mikey Harris. Picture: Joe Pepler
Mikey Harris. Picture: Joe Pepler
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POMPEY ACADEMY coach Mikey Harris insists his players have ‘nothing to fear’ as they make their Merit League 1 bow on Saturday.

The mood in the camp, instead, is one of excitement as the Blues welcome Stevenage to Furze Lane (11.30am), keen to build on their impressive 3-0 friendly victory over Southampton’s Bath Development Centre side last weekend.

On paper, The Boro’ represent the easiest possible first opponents in the newly-formed 12-team format, having claimed the seventh and final qualification spot from Youth Alliance League south-east division.

Harris’ side, meanwhile, eased to a top-four finish in the reduced south-west division and are keen to embrace the challenge the inaugural Merit League 1 campaign presents them with.

Harris said: ‘It will be good for the lads to have a different experience and that begins with Stevenage – a team that we haven’t previously come up against.

‘It’s a new challenge and one that we are all looking forward to.

‘The boys are all itching to get cracking really, especially after our win last week.’

The fact the Blues know very little about their opponents is not a cause for concern in Harris’ eyes.

In his view, the home side’s focus should be on themselves and ensuring the transition from training ground to pitch is a seamless one.

He said: ‘We are not concerned with the opposition – it is all about doing what we do well and that the lads focus very much on what we can control.

‘There is nothing to fear.

‘It is about giving the lads the opportunity to put into practice what we have been working on throughout the week in a competitive match environment.

‘We are using a 4-4-2 formation at the moment and we will continue with that.

‘The lads enjoyed it last weekend against Southampton, so hopefully they will continue to learn and improve with the system.’

Pompey Academy’s plans for Saturday’s curtain raiser will rely heavily on whether the Blues’ second string are successful in arranging a behind-closed-doors friendly for early next week.

With no Third Development League fixture scheduled, it is understood Paul Hardyman’s men would welcome valuable game time for their fringe and returning players – with Harris’ second-year scholars largely making up the numbers.

Aside from that eventuality, though, Harris is able to name a full-strength squad for their maiden Merit League contest.

He said: ‘There might be an opportunity for some under-16s – who will be next year’s scholars – to move up to the current group.

‘We have got a fair bit of planning to do over the next couple of days to make sure we dovetail it in so everyone gets plenty of opportunities.’