POMPEY’s young guns have been challenged to make the transition to senior football.
Attacker Bradley Tarbuck and midfielder Ben Close were last week handed first-year pro contracts as the Blues announced their retained players’ list.
That was reward for the exciting progress the pair have made at under-18 level for the Academy.
Tarbuck, 18, has scored goals regularly over the past two years and ended last season with 12 efforts to his name.
Close, 17, grabbed 11 goals from his midfield position and was rewarded with a place on the bench on the final day of the season against Plymouth.
Boss Andy Awford acknowledged there is still a lengthy distance for the pair to travel before they can be considered fully-fledged senior players.
But he feels they deserve their chance to try to make that switch.
Now Awford wants to see them step up to the mark in their bid to do that.
‘Ben Close and Bradley Tarbuck are two young lads who have played well in the youth team this season,’ said Awford.
‘They have done well over the last two years of the apprenticeship.
‘They both deserve a year at the football club.
‘So that is what they have been given. Let’s see what happens with them now.
‘Hopefully they can play a part moving forward.
‘They wouldn’t have been given contracts if we didn’t think they could.
‘So it’s now a different kettle of fish for them.
‘They are going to go from under-18 football to under-40 football!
‘That’s what their world is now.
‘So let’s see how they adjust to that and how they cope with it.’
It’s an exciting time for Tarbuck and Close after they were handed senior contracts.
With Close from Fratton and Tarbuck hailing from Emsworth, it deepens the pool of home-grown talent in Awford’s ranks.
The news wasn’t so good for a trio of other youngsters last week, however.
Harry Medway, Lewis Horsburgh and Kim Jae Heon were all told they were being released by Awford.
Tarbuck and Close will link up with the first team, however, when they return for pre-season training next month.
Awford feels seeing how they handle that step up is an unknown quantity.
He said: ‘They fully deserve the opportunity.
‘I’m delighted for them.
‘They haven’t played any men’s football yet, though.
‘They’ve done really well in the youth team and they played three or four development games last season.
‘So going them into men’s football now and seeing how they adjust is the unknown for them.
‘They will join in pre-season and then we will make the call on them.
‘But they will fully deserve their opportunity to be given the chance to go to the next level.’