Mikey Harris has told Pompey’s Academy players to use their title disappointment as Merit League motivation this weekend at Swindon.
That’s after the Blues’ under-18s suffered back-to-back Devon defeats in the space of four days to end any chances of being crowned Youth Alliance League south west division champions.
A 3-2 reverse at Plymouth on Saturday saw Harris’ side reduced to nine men, with Tuesday’s 2-0 reverse at Exeter compounding their misery.
Now sitting in third spot, six points off the summit, Pompey’s youngsters will ensure a top-five place – and qualification for the prestigious Merit League – with victory in their season finale at the Robins.
The Blues, though, must perform to a higher standard this Saturday (11am) to see the job through – after readjusting their targets.
Harris said: ‘We are all disappointed.
‘The lads have not played anywhere near the levels we (Harris and Academy boss Mark Kelly) and they know they are capable of.
‘We focus on player development as opposed to results and look at consistency of performances over the course of the season.
‘But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the lads had a bit of a unique opportunity this season to play under a little bit of pressure.
‘It’s pressure they put on themselves when they had an opportunity to win a league.
‘And I think that was a good lesson and learning curve for them to be able to play in a game that meant something extra-important to them.
‘But unfortunately as a group they weren’t able to perform at their highest level.
‘Plymouth and Exeter, were certainly better than us over the two games so there are no complaints just a bit of disappointment, really.’
Harris, though, insists the opportunity to test themselves against the best in the region is motivation aplenty for a response in their season-ending trip to the Robins.
‘That’s always been our main target – to get into the Merit League,’ he added.
‘We want to be testing ourselves against the best academies from the south west and the south east.
‘We are in a strong position to do that but by no means is it guaranteed.
‘That’s again added motivation for the lads to put in a performance and get a result on Saturday.
‘Swindon are a very good side and will be wanting to avenge the defeat we inflicted upon them earlier this season – it will be a good game.’
Eddie Wakley and Harvey Bradbury – both sent off in the Pilgrims loss – are available for selection with their bans yet to kick in.
Tommy Scutt, though, is a doubt after picking up a knock in the defeat to Exeter.
– JEFF MARSHMAN