Harris revelling in licence to thrill

Ashley Harris celebrates with Marko Futacs after his goal against Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat Stadium
Ashley Harris celebrates with Marko Futacs after his goal against Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat Stadium
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The robot has been released from his shackles and granted his freedom.

Now Ashley Harris’ licence to thrill has sparked his exciting emergence into Michael Appleton’s long-term Pompey plans.

That is the verdict of Andy Awford, who has overseen the youngster’s transformation from automaton into first-team player.

The Blues legend was stunned over the state of Harris’ development after being appointed Academy manager back in January 2011.

Soon, Awford and assistant Paul Hardyman set to work on the 18-year-old, reverting his attacking, instinctive game to its natural type.

The result was five appearances last season, including starts in the final two matches of the Championship campaign.

The anticipated exodus of senior players will ensure the Purbook teenager is presented with plenty more first-team opportunities in League One.

And Awford is delighted with how Harris continues to progress 18 months on.

He said: ‘When I took over the Academy, Ashley was a robot.

‘I used to watch him play aged 13-14 for a Sunday team. He had flair, he expressed himself, he could do different things with the ball to other players.

‘Then I came to Portsmouth and saw this player who would stop, pass and move.

‘He was frightened to make mistakes, he was rigid.

‘Ashley was nothing more than a pass-and-move merchant, but there’s more to him than that.

‘He is exciting and possesses far more in his locker.

‘His talent is almost uncoachable.

‘What we wanted to do was allow him to express himself in the final third and let him get on with it a little bit rather than controlling him.

‘At certain times on the pitch there has to be a disciplined side to it and in every team you need your customised players that do this job.

‘But Ashley wants to run along the line, he wants to be in the box at every opportunity – and you have to give him licence to do that in a structured set-up.’

Harris has been presented with a first-year professional contact at Fratton Park for next season.

He is among eight of the Academy squad to be offered such deals, having impressed during training sessions with the first-team last season.

The likes of Sam Magri, Jed Wallace and Alex Grant all made the bench for the final match of the 2011-12 campaign at Nottingham Forest – along with Adam Webster, who has another year of his scholarship to run.

Others signed on include Dan Thompson, George Colson, Elliot Wheeler and Dan Butler, as the youngsters continue to make encouraging progress.

The reintroduction of the development squad will provide a step up to the first-team and the likelihood of at least 10 matches a season – something crucially missing since the reserve side was scrapped.

Yet Harris appears to be ahead of the rest of his contemporaries in terms of the senior squad, thanks to his eye-catching displays late in the season.

Appleton also speaks highly of the former Purbrook Park schoolboy, who has swiftly been taken to the hearts of the Fratton faithful.

And Awford has also been impressed, although he stressed these remain early days.

‘Ashley is not the finished article but we are starting to see glimpses of that,’ said Awford.

‘What he has done is taken his chance and earned a call-up up to the first team.

‘He has let no-one down.

‘You can’t get carried away, though.

‘He still has plenty of work to do. It’s up to him to keep focused and pushing on trying to do well.’