Bristol Rovers’ season has been lacking in moments for celebration, but there was a success story for the club’s academy on the final day of the season with Jed Ward making his debut.
The 17-year-old was assured in goal, making a series of good saves before he was ultimately beaten by Ellis Simms’ pinpoint volley to give Blackpool a 1-0 victory at Bloomfield Road on Sunday.
Ward joined Rovers as an eight-year-old and has come through the academy to be part of Joey Barton’s first-team squad, and he was rewarded with a professional contract earlier this season.
The teenager was due to start last weekend’s defeat to Crewe Alexandra, but Barton withdrew him on the day of the game after a string of injuries to outfield players made it an improper occasion to throw Ward in at the deep end.
But his wait for a debut lasted only eight days longer, and Ward – who earned the top score in Bristol Live’s player ratings – enjoyed a day he will never forget, with Barton describing the youngster’s performance as “superb”.
“I’m made up to make my debut for the club I’ve been at since eight years old,” Ward told Rovers’ media team. “I’ve come all the way through and it’s an amazing feeling. I’m really happy.
“On the coach, I could feel in my tummy that I was a bit nervous, but as soon as that whistle went for kick-off I was fine.
“I was ready to play the game and it was a ball, two goals and a pitch and I just did what I would do on a normal matchday.
“Making that save in the first half helped me build into the game. It’s a shame about the goal but I’m really happy with my performance today.
“It’s brilliant, going all the way through. I’ve had my highs and lows, but getting on that pitch today was brilliant.”
Ward’s family watched the game at home on iFollow and were bursting with pride at full time.
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“There was never any pressure because I was doing it all for them and myself,” he continued. “I’m happy they were able to watch. Obviously they couldn’t be in the stands but they were watching on iFollow.
“I rang them up after the game and they were made up. Mum was really happy, Dad was really happy.”