A youthful Pompey side exited the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in the first round this evening following a spirited 2-0 defeat at Exeter City.
Second-half goals for the hosts, from a Ryan Harley penalty and an Alex Nicholls strike, ensured the visitors’ progress in the competition was cut short, despite an impressive first-half display from Paul Cook’s side.
And with six Blues players handed their debuts and a host of youngsters given first-team action, doubtless boss Cook will have seen it as a worthwhile run out for his side.
A total of seven youth-team players were called up to the first-team squad with three starting – Adam May and debutants Calvin Davies and Brandon Joseph-Buadi.
Alex Bass, Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dory Yates and Kaleem Haitham were named on the bench.
Adam Barton, signed from Coventry in the summer, also made his belated Blues bow, albeit out of position at centre-back in a side that featured just three players over the age of 20 (Barton, goalkeeper Paul Jones and Adam McGurk).
It was the Pompey who threatened first, though, with McGurk put through one on one by May within the opening 13 seconds, only for his shot to be kept out by Exeter keeper Bobby Olejnik.
The hosts recovered to dominate proceedings but it was the Blues who continued to create the better opportunities, with Conor Chaplin next to be denied by Olejnik.
Exeter’s best chance of the half came from the head of David Wheeler, but his effort was directed over the crossbar, as was Ben Tollitt’s strike on the counter attack as the visitors threatened the breakthrough.
The final chance of the opening period fell to Pompey once again, with Chaplin electing to shoot from an acute position after Pompey were awarded a free-kick out wide.
It proved the correct one with the crossbar coming to Exeter’s rescue as the Blues left the field of play to a raucous ovation from 515 travelling fans.
Exeter began the second half in the ascendancy as Harley struck wide from eight yards as they looked to turn territorial advantage into an all-important breakthrough.
They did just that after 54 minutes, with Harley making no mistake this time round from the penalty spot, after Joseph-Buadi had been adjudged to have felled Tom McCready.
Pompey chased the game, with Kal Naismith coming off the bench for his Blues debut in place of Joseph-Buadi.
But they were hit with a sucker punch as the hosts countered and doubled their lead through Nicholls’ 72nd-minute strike from wide on the right of the area, which evaded the reach of Jones’ outstretched right arm.
Oxlade-Chamberlain came off the bench with 15 minutes to play and was joined by fellow new-boy Haitham five minutes later as the number of debutants reached six.
But try as they might, Cook’s side were unable find a way back into the contest at St James Park - exiting the JPT in the first round.