How the EFL Trophy launched 19 young Portsmouth careers - but just one has reached Football League first-team
Pompey have handed debuts to 19 Academy players since the inception of a reformatted EFL Trophy five years ago.
However, just one has gone on to represent the Blues in the Football League – Haji Mnoga.
It demonstrates Pompey’s willingness to hand promising youngsters an opportunity in the oft-maligned competition.
Yet it also reflects a worrying lack of young players graduating into the first-team for league action.
Even the Academy’s shining light in Mnoga has featured just five times in League One for the Blues.
The 19-year-old, who is currently on loan at Bromley, is likely to feature at Fratton Park for tomorrow’s visit of Sutton United in the Papa John’s Trophy.
Nonetheless, the competition continues to offer an important pathway into senior football for Academy players.
Certainly it was embraced by Kenny Jackett, who oversaw all of those 19 debuts for Academy youngsters in almost four seasons at the Pompey helm.
During that period, his team remained competitive and successful, winning the Checkatrade Trophy in 2019 and losing in the delayed 2020 final to Salford.
Jackett also handed debuts to Joe Hancott, Mnoga and Harry Jewitt-White, who are presently the three youngest Blues debutants in the club’s post-war history.
Incidentally, Hancott is presently on the Rocks’ books, while the latter two remain at Fratton Park and are likely to be involved tomorrow night.
It was the 2016-17 season when the new group format consisting of under-21/23 teams was introduced, with Pompey failing to qualify for the next stage.
Boss Paul Cook didn’t give any bows to young players, instead using the competition to rotate his first-team squad.
Meanwhile, head coach Danny Cowley has, to date, overseen just one Papa John’s Trophy fixture – at AFC Wimbledon last month.
It leaves Jackett as the sole Pompey boss to present debuts to Pompey Academy players in the EFL Trophy in its current guise.
However, with all but Mnoga, he also decided against maintaining that progression in the form of outings in League One.
That brings up the debate over whether players produced by the Academy in recent times meet the required standard for the Football League.
Regardless, 10 of those to feature in the EFL Trophy for Pompey over the last five years are presently operating at a very good standard in non-league football.
At the Rocks there’s Hancott, Charlie Bell and Harrison Brook, while Gosport have Bradley Lethbridge, Matt Casey, Harvey Rew and Harry Kavanagh.
Dan Smith is at Eastleigh and currently on loan at Hereford, while Alfie Stanley last month joined Dorchester.
Taylor Seymour is at Burgess Hill, while Seok Jae Lee is without a club.
Meanwhile, Eoin Teggart (Portadown) and Gerard Storey (Derry) are in Ireland, with Josh Flint and Leon Maloney in Holland with FC Volendam, and Freddie Read at Georgia State University, America, on a scholarship.
Mnoga, Jewitt-White and Alfie Bridgman remain on Pompey’s books, with the latter second-year scholars with the Academy.
Let’s hope Jewitt-White and Bridgman will one day accompany the defender into the Blues’ first-team.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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