Mark Kelly saluted his youthful Pompey Reserves after their 3-0 defeat to Everton under-23s in the Premier League Cup.
Theo Widdrington, Alex Bass, Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jez Bedford were the only professionals to travel up the M6 to face David Unsworth’s troops at Goodison Park, with the Blues’ team mainly made up of Academy talents.
In contrast, Everton’s side featured Republic of Ireland captain Seamus Coleman, who was returning from a double leg break he picked up on international duty last March, as well as first-teamers Luke Garbutt and Beni Baningime.
The Toffees had to wait until the 32nd minute to open the scoring when Nathan Broadhead slid home beyond Alex Bass, before Bassala Sambou notched twice in the second period.
Nevertheless, Kelly was proud with his team’s performance and praised how his troops continued to keep up their work rate for the entire 90 minutes.
Pompey’s youth chief said:
‘Everton had an experienced group out.
‘The boys never stepped off it all night.
‘They kept on it and kept going and I was extremely pleased with them.
‘They showed a lot of determination and guts.
‘We had five first-team scholars on the pitch and not only are you giving experience away but five-six years away.
‘They were never off the back foot and for periods of the game they dealt with lots of things quite well.
‘We also had a few chances. Freddie Read had one from five yards. He’s broken through 2-0 down and he knows he should have squared it while Dan Smith had one or two.
‘They kept going. They didn’t let their heads drop and kept at it which is a major part of what we want.
‘For me, that was the real pleasing thing.
‘All of the boys are growing up. They are a lovely group to work with because they’re honest, just want to get on with it and work ever so hard and I’m proud of them.’
Pompey were forced to take such a youthful side to Goodison because of the ongoing first-team injury problems at Fratton Park.
Kelly admits he would have liked to have travelled with a few more experienced players but accepted boss Kenny Jackett’s situation.
He added: ‘We probably would have liked to have gone with a stronger side if we could have done.
‘But it is the way it is with injuries. Ken has got to look after his group.
‘I’m sure some of the people around would have liked to have got some minutes but that’s the way it is at this time.’