Kitson tips Ward for the top

Dave Kitson, right, has been impressed with the 'fantastic' contribution of Joel Ward, left
Dave Kitson, right, has been impressed with the 'fantastic' contribution of Joel Ward, left
Matt Clarke celebrates his goal at MK Dons. Picture: Joe Pepler

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Dave Kitson surveyed Joel Ward’s remarkable progress and admitted: We have a serious player on our hands.

The versatile youngster was thrust into the first-team squad at the start of the season when boss Steve Cotterill was struggling to field a side.

But while he may have got his chance through necessity, Ward has now become a vital part of the Pompey team after taking his opportunity with both hands.

And since convincing the manager of his worth and signing a new long-term deal in January – tying him to the club to 2013 – Ward has also proved himself to his team-mates.

Blues striker Kitson is the latest to sing his praises.

The former Stoke and Reading hitman said: ‘I think Wardy has been fantastic for us this season.

‘When I got here, I must admit I didn’t know much about Joel.

‘He played a few games at right-back at the start of the season and I remember speaking to Liam Lawrence about him and saying “he looks a terrific player and he’s got a really good future”.

‘But since he’s moved into the middle of the park, he’s got even better.

‘We’ve got a very good player on our hands in Joel.’

Considering Ward played the majority of his youth football with Pompey in central defence, it’s been an unlikely positional switch that has seen his progress continue at pace.

Having played at right-back and on the right of midfield, Cotterill has deployed him as an attacking midfielder in a central role in recent weeks.

It was a move designed to utilise his energy in the final third of the pitch.

While he has yet to become prolific in front of goal – and missed an excellent chance in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Leicester – Ward does have three goals to his name this season.

And Kitson believes there will be more to come as he adjusts to the position.

The striker said: ‘He has moved into midfield and now he’s bagging a few goals as well.

‘I remember he got a really good one against Leeds, he got a tap-in and got another good one with a lob at Doncaster – that was a great finish.

‘The good thing is they are different kinds of goals.

‘He’s had a lob, a strike from range with a 30-yard rocket into the corner and got a touch on the line.

‘He puts himself in and around it. If you’ve got players who are very capable at doing what they do, do it consistently every week and can add goals to their game, you’ve got a great chance of going on to become a top player.’

While Cotterill has already indicated Ward’s energy could be wasted as a central defender, it’s not yet clear if the Emsworth-based youngster will go on to establish himself as an attacking midfielder.

Kitson smiled: ‘I don’t know if he will end up being a midfielder. Who would be a manager?

‘But I think he can play in a variety of positions and that can only be a good thing.

‘All I know is that when he plays for us, he gives us 100-per-cent energy and he’s getting better all the time.

‘He’s only going to improve.’