Harper on Papa John's Trophy, life on the bench, staking a claim and why 'pressure makes diamonds'
- Credit: Steve Waller
Rekeem Harper will be looking to stake a claim for a starting spot when Ipswich Town face Colchester United in the Papa John’s Trophy.
The 21-year-old, signed from West Brom in the summer, started Town’s first six league games this season but dropped to the bench in the middle of September, now finding himself firmly behind the pairing of captain Sam Morsy and Lee Evans.
But he should get his opportunity tomorrow night, when manager Paul Cook makes changes for the U’s visit, which will decide which of the two teams progresses from their Trophy group.
“For myself it’s been frustrating,” Harper said, discussing his time on the bench of late.
“You have personal goals but, when the team is winning you want to be involved in that and at the heart of things. The team has been doing well and when that happens the vibe is great around the place.
“We all have the same goal here and when my chance comes I’ll be looking to take it.
“Lee (Evans) and Samy (Morsy) have played together and have been doing very well, but when my chance comes I’ll take it. The manager picks the team and picks one he can trust.
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“I came here to play football and I’ll do what I need to do in order to make that happen.”
Discussing Evans and Morsy, and what he’s been able to learn from the experienced duo, Harper said: “I’ve learnt a lot in terms of discipline in the centre of the park, which has been good to watch.
“Then, when I’m in the team, I can take on board some of my attributes to that as well.
“It’s been a good learning experience.
“For myself, the type of personality I am, I still have a laugh and joke on the bench but you are also tuned into the game because you want to come on and make an impact.
“You can watch the players in your position and see what they’re doing, see what’s working for them and see the different things you can bring.
“You want to be ready to come on and make an impact. That’s what I’ve done.”
While the Trophy is an afterthought for many, including some coaches, players and fans, Harper sees it as his route back into Cook’s first-team.
“For myself and the other players, we want to do as well as we can in that competition because it’s a chance to get minutes and play in front of the manager and show why we deserve to be in and around the team,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say I feel the pressure but it is 90 minutes to go and perform and be yourself. You want to perform and do well but you don’t want to put so much pressure on yourself that you don’t do the things that come naturally to you.
“For me it’s 90 minutes of football to prove what I can do to myself and everyone else. I’m sure all the other players around me will be wanting to do the same thing.
“We want to get the focus on getting the win, first and foremost.”
Despite having its detractors, the Trophy could potentially bring a Wembley final should Town progress through the knockout rounds.
“I’ve never played at Wembley before so it will be a great experience if we can get there,” Harper said.
“Everyone in the team wants to go as far as we can. Wembley is a long-term goal but the short-term ones are taking the little steps to get there.”
It’s a case of winner takes all at Portman Road this evening, with tonight’s victors moving on to the knockout stages.
Should the 90 minutes end in a draw, the game will go straight to a penalty shootout to decide which side advances.
“I’ve got a little saying – pressure makes diamonds,” Harper said, when asked whether he would fancy a penalty.
“It would be the first time I’ve been up for penalties in those moments so why not challenge yourself?
“You are going to be in those spots in your career so why not step up? I’ve taken them in pre-season and in the academy, but not too much in professional games.
“I always want to step up and challenge myself in those moments.”