Pompey boss: Young duo staking first-team claims

Ben Close in action against Yeovil in the Checkatrade Trophy earlier this season
Ben Close in action against Yeovil in the Checkatrade Trophy earlier this season
Matt Clarke has found himself back in familiar surroundings in the centre of defence in recent weeks  Picture: Joe Pepler

Back home – but Pompey defender would switch back

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Ben Close and Adam May continue to shine in their audition pieces.

And Paul Cook has pledged to reward stand-out performers from Pompey’s reserves with first-team involvement.

Adam May is another who needs to play football, they are like shining lights and we are trying to get our lads out to play

Paul Cook

The holding midfield pair were outstanding in Premier League Cup victories over Southend and Barnsley in recent weeks.

Close’s displays earned him a spot on Saturday’s trip to Accrington Stanley, although he didn’t make the cut for the 18-man match-day squad.

As for May, Bognor and several other clubs have been eyeing a potential loan deal for the highly-promising midfielder.

The duo are expected to again feature for the Blues’ reserves in today’s Central League Cup visit of Newport County (2.30pm).

And Cook remains delighted with their continued progression towards first-team recognition.

He said: ‘Ben Close and Adam May are doing great and working dead hard in training.

‘Ben got into the squad travelling to Accrington after being absolutely magnificent for the reserves against Barnsley, that is what you do to managers, you tell them you want to play.

‘When you see him at Yeovil, that wasn’t the same Ben Close, but you speak to them properly, show clips of where he needs to improve – and he now goes and does just that.

‘What Ben is saying now is “I want to play”. That is all we want at this club.

‘Most clubs have people sulk when they are not in the team. The more you sulk here the further you get away.

‘There is only Kal Naismith who has managed to carry on through those sulks, but he is a continuous battle for me!

‘Adam May is another who needs to play football, they are like shining lights and we are trying to get our lads out to play.

‘We are running into a few problems with the Checkatrade Trophy now, the fixtures look like they are piling up and we are addressing that at the moment.

‘But everyone benefits from these reserve games.’

Another member of the reserve team, Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain, is back at Fratton Park at the end of a Salisbury loan spell.

Steve Claridge wanted to extend his stay after the initial month, yet the midfielder was keen to return to the Blues.

Oxlade-Chamberlain made four starts and two substitute appearances, although only twice featured for longer than 64 minutes.

Alex Bass remains at the Raymond McEnhill Stadium, with four appearances, although continues to sit out their FA Cup progress as Pompey do not want him cup-tied.

Cook added: ‘Salisbury wanted to renew it but Christian wasn’t too happy about not playing. There is no problem, it’s just circumstances.

‘We have no issues with Salisbury, we have a very good relationship, but these lads go out to play, it is pointless going there and being sub.

‘I don’t interfere and won’t be a manager who says they have to play. We send them out and if they are not playing there is no benefit to them or us as a club.’