The Home Park kid on brink of joining Pompey 100 club

Jed Wallace, left, applauds the Pompey fans after his debut at Plymouth. Picture: Ian Hargreaves
Jed Wallace, left, applauds the Pompey fans after his debut at Plymouth. Picture: Ian Hargreaves

Michael Appleton peered across the desk and smirked.

‘What are you, the Jed Wallace fan club?’ he playfully lobbed in my direction.

The date was August 14, 2012, and the midfielder had just made his Pompey debut at Plymouth.

For good measure his performance was recognised with The News’ man-of-the-match stamp of approval, accompanied by the tagline ‘heavyweight all-round display’.

Wallace was in familiar company on that Tuesday evening, with nine teenagers featuring in the Home Park starting line-up for the 2012-13 season curtain raiser.

Andy Awford’s then Academy side had been thrown en masse into senior football to solve Appleton’s selection crisis.

The Portpin takeover which had reached crawling pace meant the Football League’s registration embargo could not be lifted in time for the Capital One Cup fixture.

Hence, an 18-year-old Wallace – a player who only totalled 89 minutes worth of action in pre-season – was given his opportunity.

Today he stands on 99 appearances for the Blues, with next week’s trip to Newport County likely to herald the prized three figures.

Considering the club’s persistently unstable playing environment he has operated in since his emergence, it is a fine achievement not to be underestimated.

The last Pompey player to break the 100-game appearance barrier was Hayden Mullins on September 17, 2011, on his way to 128 matches before departing for Birmingham at the end of that campaign.

In recent times Ricardo Rocha (97), Joel Ward (96) and Aaron Mokoena (89) have come tantalisingly close, while Johnny Ertl presently stands on 81.

Now, more than three years and three months on, Wallace is on target to join Mullins as part of a club which in days gone by had plenty of members jostling to fit through its doors.

As a young lad growing up in the Pompey first team, his performances have drawn criticism on occasions, such is the erratic nature of youth.

At times, he has been forced to wade through a cesspit of abuse on Twitter, courtesy of strong feelings directed from a miniscule minority of Blues followers.

Yet 24 goals in 99 appearances from midfield – three of them penalties – represents an outstanding return from a player now aged 20.

What’s more, the majority have been something special, plenty emanating from outside the box, while his York strike will never fade from the memory.

In truth, few could have anticipated the giant strides made by the former Lewes youngster since that Home Park bow.

Team-mates that night included Dan Butler, Adam Webster and Ashley Harris – players who have endured stuttering Pompey careers during their on-going maturing within football.

In Harris’ case, one of only two teenagers that evening with previous first-team experience, he is now representing Wessex League side Horndean.

Wallace, however, after making his Football League debut at Swindon on New Year’s Day that same season, has featured in all but three of the Blues’ subsequent fixtures.

And who was the last home-grown player to reach 100 appearances for Pompey? Gary O’Neil in the 2004-5 campaign.

O’Neil went on to make 192 appearances and net 17 times before joining Middlesbrough. Today he is aged 31.

For Wallace, though, it started against Plymouth and afterwards Appleton gave his response to the midfielder’s impromptu fan club.

‘Jed did much better in the second-half. He’s all about getting up and supporting the front men, that is his game,’ the then-Blues boss said.

‘Sometimes he’s as quick in possession of the ball as he is out of it and we need to slow him down.

‘He’s 100mph because he’s like Speedy Gonzales sometimes and needs to slow down and relax. I thought he did well.’

That summer Wallace had attended Appleton’s pre-season training camp in Benahavis, Malaga, Spain, bolstering a group consisting of youngsters and triallists.

The self-confident, instantly likeable teenager would make more of an impact playing table tennis than on the football pitch during that trip.

He appeared as a 60th-minute substitute for Lloyd Sam in a 4-0 defeat at Gibraltar, and the following match at the Barcelo Montecastillo Resort in Cadiz, replaced the same player at half-time.

Back in England, there was a 14-minute cameo in place of Brian Howard at Aldershot.

Yet he was an unused substitute against Bolton and AFC Wimbledon.

Then came Plymouth, with Pompey fielding a side with an average age of 19.9 years.

As a goalkeeper, Simon Eastwood received special dispensation to play and captained the side – the other senior figure being 35-year-old assistant manager Ashley Westwood.

Central-defender Westwood lasted 34 minutes before he had to be replaced by 17-year-old winger Jack Maloney.

The Blues ultimately slipped to a 3-0 defeat – two goals in the final three minutes inflating the scoreline.

A rendition of ‘We’re proud of you’ emanated from the 753 visiting supporters. Yet little did they realise they had witnessed the Pompey birth of Wallace.

The likes of Alex Grant, Sam Magri, George Colson, Andy Higgins and Dan Thompson never played for the first-team again.

Wallace is still there, though, producing hard-working, goal-scoring displays generally down the right.

A favourable first impression which for once lived up to its billing.