Burton 2 Portsmouth 4: Neil Allen's verdict - Marcus Harness brilliance transforms Blues and hints at hope for boss Kenny Jackett

Marcus Harness used to sell programmes and sweep the terraces at the Pirelli Stadium, dreaming of footballing greatness.

Sunday, 4th October 2020, 9:00 am
Updated Monday, 5th October 2020, 12:32 pm
Jack Whatmough is mobbed by his team-mates after netting in Pompey's 4-2 success at Burton on Saturday. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com
Jack Whatmough is mobbed by his team-mates after netting in Pompey's 4-2 success at Burton on Saturday. Picture: Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.com

On Saturday he returned to heighten not only his Pompey standing, but lend timely assistance to a manager under siege and in desperate need of winning inspiration.

For all the criticism Kenny Jackett is presently enduring, the setting of rain-sodden Burton provided prized respite. For now, anyway.

Granted, not all Blues fans could muster begrudging praise following an eye-catching 4-2 triumph, such is the mindset among some of the Fratton faithful whose views are anchored in despondency.

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Correctly, one positive result does not alleviate the pressure or abstain castigation of a Blues boss facing an improbable mission to win back disillusioned supporters.

However, Jackett and his maligned team warrant applause for Saturday’s display and an outcome signifying the first League One victory of the campaign.

Following a Wigan performance which brought scathing critique and escalated demands for the manager’s removal, eight days later Pompey produced a superb attacking show to tear apart Burton.

Irrespective of opinions about Jackett’s ongoing Fratton Park future and chuntering about quality of opposition, the excellence of Saturday’s triumph must not be overlooked.

His team showed immense character to pick themselves up from harshly trailing 2-1 at the interval following two goals against the run of play which deflected off the unfortunate Tom Naylor.

The portents ominously suggested this was not going to be Pompey’s day, particularly when Harness couldn’t convert an open goal to level seconds before half-time.

What unfolded was the antithesis of those Shrewsbury, Rochdale and Wigan displays.

There was heart, desire, fight and, perhaps most welcome of all, creativity. The Blues netted three times during the second half at the Pirelli Stadium and could well have scored more.

At the heart of it was a redeployed Harness and the recalled Ellis Harrison. The pair were magnificent.

Jackett has long toyed with the idea of instructing Harness to operate as a number 10, even throwing him into the role in the play-off semi-final second leg against Oxford to goal-scoring effect.

Yet the Blues boss has never been convinced sufficiently enough to offer anything more than the occasional cameo in a position he has never truly resolved during his time at Fratton Park.

At Burton, he dropped Ronan Curtis and, in the subsequent reshuffle, Michael Jacobs moved to wide left, with Harness coming inside and Ryan Williams recalled to the right wing.

Ironically, it was Harness’ powerful performance at the Pirelli Stadium against Pompey in April 2019 which first drew him to their attention. Upon his maiden return, he registered a second career hat-trick.

The first, which opened the scoring after 79 seconds, was a smart first-time right-footed finish after Jacobs’ surge into the box had been ended, prompting the ball to spring free.

The other two – both arriving in the second half – dripped with quality and impudence from a player some at Fratton Park regard as the most naturally gifted player within the squad.

For the second, Lee Brown’s corner from the right was headed back across goal from the far post by the pestering Harrison, keeping alive the move.

It fell to Harness who, with back to goal and few options, opted to try his luck with an extravagant backheel which found its way past keeper Ben Garratt.

The finest was still to come, however, arriving on 72 minutes to complete his hat-trick in style. The 24-year-old regards it as one of the best goals of his career.

Substitute Ronan Curtis rolled the ball inside to Harness, who once again had his back to goal from inside the penalty area.

Buoyed by confidence following his earlier strikes, he backheeled the pass around John-Joe O’Toole before spinning around the centre-half and then delightfully clipping a first-time shot over the advancing keeper.

An outstanding finish, so noisily greeted by Pompey’s substitutes and the travelling contingent located in the directors’ box within the main stand.

Harness scored seven career goals before arriving at Fratton Park in the summer of 2019 from Burton in a deal in the region of around £800,000, yet recorded as undisclosed.

In 44 Blues appearances, he has now scored 14 times, representing a player developing at an encouraging rate under Jackett.

A quiet, unassuming lad, he even described Saturday’s hat-trick feat as ‘bittersweet’, in reference to the affection he still holds for his former club.

Joining them at the age of 14, the forward still has friends and former team-mates in east Staffordshire, while boss Jake Buxton was a former playing colleague.

Saturday represented the first time he had faced Burton following his departure for the south coast – and what reunion.

By doing so, spirits around Pompey have been lifted a little, such is the power of not merely victory, but one achieved through positive football.

Even Jackett’s substitutions were on the front foot, with Curtis, John Marquis and Andy Cannon introduced during the second half, designed to maintain attacking momentum rather than shutting up shop.

Pompey’s manager had entered the fixture by dropping the out-of-sorts Marquis for Harrison, promoting Williams from the bench for Curtis and restoring Brown at left-back in place of Cam Pring.

Harrison, in particular, was pivotal. A far more natural fit for the striking role in Jackett’s system, he was a handful for the Burton defence, even earning himself a booking following one poor challenge.

While questions remain about his goal return, the former Ipswich man once again demonstrated his suitability as the lone striker and talent for retaining possession, winning the ball aerially and distributing it accurately to his team-mates.

His clever pass to Williams on nine minutes should have given the Blues a 2-0 lead, yet instead the Australian international shot wide with just the keeper to beat.

Within 11 minutes, the Blues founds themselves 2-1 behind.

Firstly, Lucas Akins’ shot deflected off the chest of Naylor to head in an opposite direction and enter the net.

Then, on 20 minutes, Joe Powell surged into the box and Naylor, a former Burton player, slid in to block, only to succeed in diverting it past the unfortunate Craig MacGillivray.

Harness’ second goal drew the teams level on 47 minutes, before Jack Whatmough, with his second career goal, finished from close range to restore the visitors’ lead.

It was left to Harness to wrap up the 4-2 victory with the best goal of them all with 18 minutes remaining.

Finally Pompey fans – and Jackett – have something to smile about this season. For now.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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