Pompey’s next generation step forward

Andy Awford
Andy Awford
Smoke bombs were let off during Pompey's match against Charlton today. Picture: Joe Pepler

Steward treated after smoke bombs let off following Pompey defeat

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They are the next generation of potential Pompey players.

And Andy Awford has been busy laying the foundations for them to thrive in.

Today, seven promising youngsters will be given two-year scholarships at Fratton Park.

The 16-year-olds are taking the next step on the long road to becoming professional footballers.

They are Liam Triggs, Jack Maloney, Nick Awford, Josh Warren, Kane Cook, George Branford and Adam Webster.

For Academy manager Awford, it is a very different youth set-up they enter from the one he inherited barely six months ago.

Having replaced Paul Smalley in January, the Pompey great and assistant Paul Hardyman have been rebuilding the Fratton Park production line.

Its effects could be seen at the end of last season with a marked improvement in the Academy’s results.

And Awford’s hoping the latest crop will flourish under the new regime.

He said: ‘I think the biggest thing after I came in was the players had a bit of a wake-up call on the intensity of training.

‘That was something they were quite shocked by. A few didn’t like it and a few thought it was great.

‘Basically, we made sure we are out there a lot longer and working a lot harder.

‘They didn’t have a high enough work ethic. I don’t know if it had been painted differently to them but, to me, if you are going to play out there you have got to give 120 per cent.

‘I don’t think they were doing that enough.

‘It was quite evident some of them thought it was enough just to control the ball and pass it and not run around too much.

‘Me and Paul (Hardyman) looked at that and addressed that.

‘There was not a horrible side to the game – the work, the closing down, the tackling.

‘Even in training that has got to be right because if you do it in training it will replicate in the match.

‘It was important to get that right and, for a few of them, it was a shock to the system.

‘They didn’t understand pressing from the front, they didn’t think that was needed.

‘Yet you show them videos of Barcelona pressing from the front and they are the best team in the world and do it brilliantly.

‘Manchester United do it. I show our youngsters videos of our first team doing it. If they want to get there that’s the carrot.

‘The penny is starting to drop with a few now. Whether they are going to be good enough I don’t know, but at least by doing the extra bits they are giving themselves the best possible chance.

‘That is down to them to take on board. Those who want to learn and come with us come, those who don’t fall by the wayside.

‘That’s football and it’s quite blunt in that way.’

The current crop of Blues youngsters will also be under orders to attend Pompey home games.

Awford was stunned upon his arrival to discover there was no ruling in place instructing the Academy players to watch the first team.

The youngsters play on the Saturday morning, often making it possible to attend a first-team game that day.

Nonetheless, much to the Academy manager’s disbelief, the majority usually didn’t bother.

Awford added: ‘They didn’t used to come and watch first-team games, which is a really important part of their education.

‘If we play at home now we’ll travel back together as a team and watch them together.

‘I think that attitude was down to culture more than anything.

‘We had foreign lads coming in, the Mahotos, the Sowahs and the Cuveliers and whoever else and when they were youth-team players, I don’t think they really wanted to come to Fratton Park.

‘Now we have got local lads who want to come, such as Sam Magri, Ashley Harris and Lewis Stockford.

‘These are lads who live in the town, who are season ticket holders who will be here anyway.

‘The Academy lads need to experience the atmosphere.

‘Then one day, hopefully, when they step out there, they know a little bit about Fratton Park and the unique atmosphere it creates.’