Awford delight at Pompey reserve return

Matt Ritchie in Pompey reserve-team action against Arsenal at Westleigh Park
Matt Ritchie in Pompey reserve-team action against Arsenal at Westleigh Park
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There were 199 people gathered into Westleigh Park to witness the occasion.

The date was April 26, 2010. The opposition were Aston Villa in a fixture which would ultimately signify Pompey’s last-ever reserve match.

Now, more than four years on, second-string action is being resurrected – with the Blues among eight clubs involved in a southern section league.

The Final Third Development League southern division will kick off next season, offering 14 fixtures to each of its clubs.

Joining Pompey for the inaugural campaign are AFC Wimbledon, Bournemouth, Cambridge, Gillingham, Leyton Orient, Luton and Peterborough.

For Blues boss Andy Awford, the return of the competition is to be applauded, with youngsters starved of the vital match action it provides.

The Blues boss also intends to field members of his first-team squad when the need arises as he seeks to utilise the opportunity.

And he believes it can be crucial in players’ on-going development.

‘I think it is a step forward, definitely,’ said Awford.

‘For me, it will be an opportunity for our players coming back from injury to play, for our better youth-team players to play, as well as triallists, loan players, those who have been out and for some lads that need sharpness.

‘I can only pick 11 players out of the squad I have got, so if the lads have gone two, three or four weeks without a game they are going to need their match sharpness.

‘We will have set fixtures throughout the season, home and away. And if we get a fixture sat on November 19 and want to move it to November 18 because it works best for me and works best for the other team then you can.

‘It’s not something that is really strict so there’s flexibility in the whole programme, which works for a lot of clubs.

‘Where you play them is entirely up to you. We can play at Fratton Park, the training ground, the University (of Portsmouth), at Havant, at Bognor maybe. It is finding the best venue for the particular game and then go from there.

‘Some of these leagues you have to play at a certain level of venue. The good thing about this new one is they are comfortable for it to be a training ground.

‘They have removed a lot of barriers that caused a problem financially for League One and League Two clubs.

‘That is why we are able to go in it because it is not costing an arm and a leg to fund it.

‘We are really pleased and thankful to the Football League for listening and putting together a league that gives you a structure to allow you to have those fixtures in place.’

Pompey won their last reserve match 3-1 against Aston Villa back in 2010.

The scorers that day were Matt Ritchie, Nadir Ciftci and Gael Nlundulu, while Jonathan Hogg – future Pompey loanee – netted a goal for the visitors, who had already been crowned champions.

Also among Guy Whittingham’s second-string side that day were Joel Ward, Marlon Pack, James Hurst, Liam O’Brien and Luke Wilkinson – all who have gone on to play in the Football League.

In addition, current Hawks midfielder Perry Ryan was also in the starting line-up.