The focus was on the identity of Pompey’s central-defensive make-up in the build-up.
Yet few could have anticipated Matt Clarke and make-shift partner Oli Hawkins would have such an influence at the other end of the pitch.
Kenny Jackett’s men last night inflicted a 3-1 defeat on Crawley Town in their latest Checkatrade Trophy excursion.
And the Blues’ opening scorers in front of a Fratton Park crowd of 1,527 were defensive pair Clarke and Hawkins.
In fact, Clarke’s 30th-minute contribution saw him start the move from his own half before wonderfully finishing it off in front of the vacant Fratton End.
Moussa Sanoh did pull one back for the Reds in the second half, yet Stuart O’Keefe’s maiden goal for the club sealed victory.
Jackett had made six changes to the side which lost to Oldham Athletic at the weekend, although they were largely driven by the need to give squad members match minutes.
Gareth Evans, Danny Rose and Kyle Bennett were handed their first starts since the 1-1 draw at Wigan Athletic in August, with the former handed the captaincy.
Kal Naismith’s last outing in the Pompey first team also came that month, while Curtis Main’s previous start this season was in the last Checkatrade Trophy match against Fulham under-21s.
Finally, Adam May returned having lost his place to Ben Close for the last four fixtures.
It was Main who had the first glimpse of goal for either side, the opportunity arriving in the 12th minute. Bennett slipped him in down the left and he bustled his way through Joe McNerney’s tackle before driving an angled left-foot shot narrowly past the far post.
The deadlock was broken on 30 minutes with a goal started – and finished – by Clarke.
The centre-half picked the ball up in his own half and surged up the field before squaring it to his left for Main.
The striker’s subsequent left-foot shot was superbly saved low by the keeper but there was Clarke following up to steer it into the empty net.
Pompey’s lead was doubled five minutes later after Naismith’s free-kick drew a save from Yusuf Mersin following Main’s header.
This time it was Hawkins lurking at the far post to collect the rebound and steer a first-time angled right-foot finish into the net.
Bennett should have put the game beyond doubt on 65 minutes when he intercepted a backpass and rounded the keeper.
But he could only strike the ball left-footed over the empty net.
Within 60 seconds the visitors had reduced the deficit when Sanoh finished well after latching on to Panutche Camara’s header.
But on 71 minutes, Bennett supplied the pass from the left and there was O’Keefe with a right-foot finish from the edge of the six-yard box.
POMPEY: McGee, Evans, Hawkins, Clarke, Donohue, O’Keefe (Close, 87mins), Rose (Lowe, 62mins), May (Haunstrup, 62mins), Bennett, Naismith, Main. Subs not used: Bass, Kennedy, Chaplin, Talbot
CRAWLEY: Mersin, Payne, McNerney, Yorwerth, Djalo (Smith, 87mins), Clifford, Tajbakhsh (Lewis, 76mins), Bulman, Meite, Sanoh, Camara (Boldewijn, 76mins). Subs not used: Morris, Connolly, Evina, Lelan
Attendance: 1,527 (44 away fans)