Portsmouth's forgotten man is forgotten no longer - how Danny Cowley sees Ben Close's future
He handed Ben Close his fourth League One start in more than a year.
Now Danny Cowley is convinced the long-serving midfielder can become a fixture in his Pompey side.
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Until the Papa John’s Trophy final, Close had become Pompey’s forgotten man, not included in 11 successive match-day squads.
Now Cowley views him as a pivotal presence in his midfield.
The Blues’ head coach told The News: ’Ben’s an excellent footballer, a top player.
‘We think he can fit into that (midfield) two, absolutely.
‘Andy Cannon’s had a really good season, but has been struggling a bit with his back. I thought it was the right time to freshen him up – and Ben plays with wonderful control.
‘We knew in the first half that we’d need to build in a back three, because Shrewsbury played with a front two. So Ben could come into those false positions and keep receiving the ball.
‘We knew where the space would be on the sides of the pitch. We had to find Ben on the ball, he’s a really good footballer when you give him time and space.
‘That was the aim and he was excellent. He gave us a really good control of the game.
‘He made a lot of passes, maybe 100 over the whole game, although I need to check our stats on that.
‘That’s good control, but that was the whole group creating that.’
Close’s central midfield partner at Shrewsbury was Tom Naylor.
The pair had been Jackett’s preferred choice for a lengthy period, before Close was omitted from the squad for the March 2020 clash with Fleetwood at Fratton Park.
Finishing 2-2, it represented the final match before lockdown. When the Blues returned for the play-offs, Close couldn’t even make the 20-man squad.
Now he has been reunited with Naylor, a player who has also impressed Cowley since his appointment as Jackett’s replacement.
He added: ‘Tom Naylor, in terms of what he gives you both in and out of possession, is superb.
‘The defensive transition and his ability to fill the defensive line – he is exactly on the blade of grass you want him to be - is exceptional.
‘They are a good partnership.’
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