They're ones of our own - the procession of local talent bursting into Portsmouth's first-team

At the age of 17 years and 14 days, the latest academy product was welcomed into Pompey’s first-team.

Friday, 11th October 2019, 6:00 pm
Gosport's Bradley Lethbridge celebrates scoring Pompey's leveller at Oxford United with former Academy team-mate Leon Maloney, who hails from the Isle of Wight. Picture: Graham Hunt/ProSportsImages

Harvey Rew had a week earlier signed his maiden professional contract, such are the lofty hopes harboured for the first-year scholar and Wales under-17 international.

His father, Ian, represented Gosport Borough during his own playing career, while also served as a team-mate of Guy Whittingham in days together at Newport Isle of Wight.

On Tuesday night, the former Brune Park Community School pupil was ushered into Kenny Jackett’s side and issued a holding-midfield role for the trip to Oxford United in the Trophy.

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A proud moment for his Gosport-based family – and likewise the Fratton faithful.

In Jackett’s 16 EFL Trophy matches at Pompey, Rew represents the 10th player to be blooded from Mark Kelly’s academy set-up.

The format was ripped up for the 2016-17 campaign in order to accommodate what was then paraded as under-23 teams, with Checkatrade unveiled as the sponsor overseeing generally-despised reworking.

While such alterations were designed to enhance first-team opportunities for Premier League and Championship players, Pompey themselves have been swift to capitalise on the competition’s dubious charms.

On Tuesday evening, Oxford opted to field a starting XI consisting of eight players who, the previous weekend, had featured in a 2-2 draw against Accrington Stanley.

In contrast, opponents Pompey had already qualified for the Trophy knock-out stages, a secure position which permitted 11 changes at the Kassam Stadium – with Rew among five teenagers in their line up.

Tellingly, he was the sole debutant, reflecting gradual first-team implementation for Kelly’s fledglings. Certainly Rew’s presence was genuine, no point to prove or powerful statement to deliver to the Fratton Park hierarchy.

Jackett has elected to utilise the Trophy for largely fielding promising youngsters and fringe players craving match minutes.

Remarkably, it’s a policy which has yielded no negative impact upon results, with just one defeat in 16 matches played since the beginning of 2017-18.

Those on starting duty at Oxford consisted of seven home-grown players of varying ages, in addition Australian Ryan Williams is presently in his second Pompey spell having previously climbed the youth ranks.

Only Anton Walkes, Paul Downing and Andy Cannon hadn’t seen service with the Blues’ academy.

There was also the half-time introduction of Ben Close, these days an established first-teamer with 132 outings and 13 goals, nonetheless a youth-team product who, in the summer, left his Fratton home to settle in Waterlooville.

Local influence has become ingrained in earlier rounds of the EFL Trophy under Jackett, yet at Oxford the bond was at its most formidable.

Josh Flint resides in Crystal Way, Waterlooville, and attended Queens Inclosure School, where mum, Sam, was once a teaching assistant and sat on the PTA.

He was later a pupil at Crookhorn College, with Brandon Haunstrup several years ahead and certainly looked up to by Flint.

Elsewhere, Joe Hancott and Leon Maloney possess a lifelong friendship, growing up together on the Isle of Wight and occupying the same academic year at Ryde Academy.

Hancott is presently on loan at the Rocks, where long-time academy team-mate Bradley Lethbridge is once again a playing colleague. Lethbridge has this season netted once in seven appearances for Jack Pearce’s side, that moment arriving in the FA Cup against Sittingbourne.

The currently sidelined Haji Mnoga, who last season made three Pompey first-team appearances in the Checkatrade Trophy, has also spent time at Nyewood Lane this term, albeit brief.

The second-year scholar is currently sidelined after breaking a bone in his foot during the Victorious Festival. Jackett claimed it occurred having fallen off a curb while walking to the Southsea Common event.

The former Trafalgar School pupil is presently the second-youngest Pompey debutant in post-war history – behind Hancott. In fact, including Rew, three of the top 10 have been handed their bows in the EFL Trophy by Jackett.

Hancott was aged 16 years, five months and nine days when given his maiden outing against Fulham under-21s in August 2017. He stands as 15 days younger than Mnoga, at the time of his own October 2018 debut.

Returning to Lethbridge, the former Brune Park Community School pupil grabbed Pompey’s opening goal in their 2-2 draw at Oxford, pouncing at the far post with a right-footed finish after Flint’s shot deflected his way.

Keeper Simon Eastwood couldn’t quite prevent the ball entering the net as it squeezed over the line for the visitors’ leveller.

In doing so, the 18-year-old became the 11th different home-grown player to score for Pompey during the past decade.

Flint last month registered on his debut against Norwich under-21s. Before then, Ben Close was the most recent in November 2017 at Blackpool.

Others to have emerged from the academy to score for the Blues during the past 10 years are Nadir Ciftci, Joel Ward, Tom Kilbey, Ashley Harris, Jed Wallace, Adam Webster, Jack Whatmough and Conor Chaplin.

Whatmough was previously the last Gosport representative to net, with a strike and clumsy goal celebration in February 2017 having entered as a substitute in a 3-0 League Two win at Carlisle.

Certainly those that have overseen Pompey’s youth set-up over the past decade deserve immense credit for the consistent first-team pathway provided for promising talent.

Since 2017-18, the EFL Trophy has staged full debuts for Dan Smith, Freddie Read, Matt Casey, Eoin Teggart, Mnoga, Maloney, Hancott, Flint, Lethbridge and Rew.

This season alone has yielded three first-team bows for academy players as Jackett continues to rotate his squad.

As a consequence, an unbeaten Pompey top Southern Group B, with a home draw in the next round secured, despite others possessing a game in hand.

Their last defeat in the competition occurred in January 2018, courtesy of a stoppage-time 2-1 defeat to Chelsea under-21s at Fratton Park – 21 months ago.

And, of course, the Blues are reigning holders, with Jackett involving youngsters until last season’s semi-final stage at Bury, as ambition hardened towards claiming silverware rather than development.

So welcome to Rew, the newest addition to the growing procession of Pompey home-grown debutants in the EFL Trophy. Expect many more.