Pompey Academy came from a goal behind to beat Southend United 2-1 in the first round of the FA Youth Cup last night.
A crowd of nearly 700 turned up to Fratton Park on a bitterly-cold evening to see for themselves what talent is emerging through the Blues’ youth system.
And they were certainly warmed by a young Pompey performance that began nervously and finished firing on all cylinders.
Much of the first half belonged to the Essex visitors who took advantage of the hosts’ failure to keep the ball.
Southend took a 25th-minute lead as Marlon Agyakwa’s cross caught the swirling wind and lifted over the head of keeper Connor O’Hara into the roof of the net.
The nearest Pompey came to a goal in the opening 45 minutes was a low drive from Jack Maloney that sped across the surface and into the arms of Southend keeper Edward Smith at his near post.
The next time Smith touched the ball was to retrieve it from the back of his net early in the second half, though, as Bradley Tarbuck’s penalty raced past him after Maloney had been hacked down by Southend defender Harry Jeffrey just inside the area.
Suddenly it was game on, with Pompey determined it would be Fratton Park and not Roots Hall to host the second-round tie in November against either Woking or Carshalton Athletic.
And on 75 minutes, the Blues had the lead with a move straight from the training ground.
As Tarbuck stepped up to take a free-kick way out on the touchline, there seemed no real danger to Southend’s rearguard. But the pace and swerve of the ball took it on to the head of Liam Triggs and Smith was beaten for a second time.
To their credit, Southend battled away looking for an equaliser to take the contest into extra-time. But they had to do so with 10 men after Maloney was subjected to a hefty two-handed push that earned defender Jack Edwards a straight red card.
‘The lads weren’t at their best at times but, credit to them, they stuck to it and got themselves back in the game with a much-improved second-half display,’ said Pompey coach Paul Hardyman.
‘What is really important for them is to enjoy the experience of playing before a biggish crowd at Fratton Park. It is very much part of the learning curve for young players at the club.
‘So, yes, the result was important. Usually it’s more about youth development rather than results but this is very different as it takes them into a run in the FA Youth Cup which is new territory to them at this stage of their careers.’
Pompey Academy: O’Hara, Close, Triggs, Awford, Warren, Whatmough, Tarbuck, Branford, Horsburgh, Kim, Maloney. Subs: Rwakarambwe, Da Costa (GK), Hartson, Field, Chaplin.