Pompey boss pays tribute to departing fans’ favourite

Joel Ward is expected to wrap up a move to Crystal Palace today
Joel Ward is expected to wrap up a move to Crystal Palace today
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Michael Appleton paid tribute to Joel Ward as the in-demand Pompey favourite today prepares to be unveiled at Crystal Palace.

The 22-year-old Ward is expected to complete a £450,000 move to Selhurst Park today, finally bringing an end to his drawn-out transfer.

Leeds, Burnley, Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday and Blackpool had also been in the running for the Emsworth youngster.

At one point, Leeds were the comfortable front-runners, only for the west Yorkshire club to drag their heels over payment.

Now Palace is the destination for the versatile Ward.

And Appleton has been quick to sing the praises of the boyhood Pompey fan, who is to become the third Blues departure this summer after Jason Pearce and Stephen Henderson.

The Pompey manager said: ‘Joel Ward has been great for this football club and I have got a lot of time for him.

‘He is an honest lad. That will take you far in this game. There are not many honest players around, especially of his ilk.

‘He works so hard at his game and is always one of the last off the training field.

‘Joel has great attributes in terms of athleticism, he is strong, good in the air and strong in the tackle. Although, in honesty, he needs to improve on his composure in the final third.

‘If he is going to be a full-back – and that is where clubs are looking for him to play – defensively he can do a lot better on one-versus-ones.

‘The lad can be more of a marauding, attacking full-back and, with a little bit more improvement and composure, he will become a very good player.

‘Joel certainly has a lot of time on his side – I am sure he will get there.

‘When scouts came to watch Jason Pearce, Joel would definitely have also caught their eye. He deserves this move and I wish him all the best.’

Ward occupied no fewer than six different roles this season to display his versatility.

He played across midfield, including operating just behind the striker under Steve Cotterill early in the campaign.

Towards the end of the season, Ward was given a run at right-back – only to switch back to left-back for the last match at Nottingham Forest.

That proved to be his 96th and final appearance for his hometown club, with Championship side Palace beckoning.

But Appleton is adamant a bright future as a right-back awaits Ward.

He added: ‘I have said it enough that if he was given an opportunity in my squad next season, he would be competing at right back.

‘This season, in an ideal world, that would have been his position, too. But we had to mix and match a lot of the time and he helped us out by filling in all sorts of positions.

‘I think he will now get the opportunity to nail down a regular position at his new club and that will be at right-back.

‘He is certainly more of a right-back than a left-back. Have you seen his left foot!’