Pompey Academy boss Mark Kelly has been impressed with the character of the Blues’ under-18s side after they recorded a third straight Merit League win on Saturday.
Barnet were the latest side to taste defeat as Liam Sayers grabbed a double and Adam May the other in a come-from-behind 3-1 success.
The goal the Blues conceded was their first in three outings, with a new-found defensive resilience a source of pride for Kelly and coach Mikey Harris.
‘I have been impressed with the character of the group,’ said Kelly.
‘We have been doing quite a bit of work over the past month or so on mentality.
‘We have focused on the back five working hard to keep some discipline and looked at the enjoyment of keeping some clean sheets.
‘At the beginning of the start of the Merit League we were letting in threes, fours and fives but still scoring lots.
‘There was a balance that needed to be struck.
‘We needed to start taking a bit of pride in some of the uglier stuff – the hard work.
‘The boys have stepped up which has been nice to see.’
Victory against Barnet was made all the more impressive by virtue of the fact the Blues trailed 1-0 at half-time on a pitch not conducive to their usual dominant passing game.
Kelly said: ‘Saturday was difficult because the bobbly pitch made it hard for us to play the game we wanted.
‘At half-time we talked about individuals but we also spoke about winning the game on the front foot.
‘It was not the day for trying individual skills – the pitch wouldn’t allow it.
‘We had to play the opponent and the pitch.
‘That meant we needed to press and win the ball earlier.
‘In the second half I thought we did really well and took control of the game.
‘Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain was excellent in winning the ball early and playing it forward early, which gave Brandon Joseph-Buadi and Kaleem Haitham a lot more time to drive at their opponent – instead of the ball bobbling around and splashing them in the head.
‘The game dictated that mentality had to change – the pitch can do that just as much as an opponent.
‘They did that well in the second half and fully deserved their win – in the end they could have had a few more to be fair.’
Next up for the Blues is another home Merit League clash with Plymouth on Saturday (midday).
Joseph-Buadi, meanwhile, is in the running for the League Football Education (LFE) February goal of the month award.
The youngster was shortlisted for an eye-catching curling strike in a 4-3 win at Bournemouth, with votes ending tomorrow at midday.
Kelly added: ‘It was a great bit of skill, he cut in and curled it right in the top far corner – an excellent finish.
‘It’s always pleasing to see the hard work the lads put in being recognised.’
Vote for the goal online at: lfe.org.uk/goal-of-the-month/goal-of-the-month-february
– JEFF MARSHMAN