Cheltenham 0 Portsmouth 3 - England eyes on impressive Haji Mnoga after inspiring Blues to Papa John's Trophy progress
Within 15 minutes, the right-wing back had set Pompey on their way to Papa John’s Trophy progress with his maiden goal.
Quite an impact in front of the Three Lions’ under-19 head coach Ian Foster, on duty surveying the ever-developing Fratton Park youngster.
Foster was a highly-regarded Pompey coaching presence under Paul Cook before answering the England call towards the end of the triumphant 2016-17 season.
And at a rain-hit Cheltenham tonight, he was apparently running the rule over the flourishing 18-year-old who continues to impress.
Mnoga is clearly raw, his final ball on the evening often lacking, yet his power, athleticism and drive down the right flank posed ended problems for the League Two side.
The opening goal also had a touch of class, touching the ball inside from his right foot to then place an angled left-footed shot into the far corner.
From that point, a Blues side which consisted of 11 changes from the team which beat Peterborough on Saturday were in control.
Although Mnoga put Kenny Jackett’s side on the right path, it was Jordy Hiwula who secured progress in the competition which continues to be so successful for Pompey.
His first, on 29 minutes, saw the former Coventry striker finish from close range after Alfie Stanley’s excellent header back.
Then, five minutes into the second half, Bryn Morris’ quick free-kick down the right opened space for him to finish with impressive ease.
They may even have been a hat-trick, had Scott Flinders not pushed his on-target header wide of the post shortly afterwards.
Still, the 3-0 outcome was sufficient for Pompey to progress into the final 16 of a competition they have remained as holders since March 2019.
There is also a Wembley final outstanding against Salford - yet in the here and now they maintain another march to the home of football.
Former Mayfield School pupils Stanley and Charlie Bell had both started for Pompey, retaining their places from the Blues’ previous fixture in the competition.
Both were named in a Pompey starting XI which represents a stronger side to the one which last month faced West Ham under-21s in the group stage of the competition.
Jackett has included Ben Close, Paul Downing, James Bolton, Rasmus Nicoliasen, Bryn Morris and Alex Bass.
Featuring in a 3-5-2, Stanley partnered Jordy Hiwula in attack, with Bell serving in the centre of midfield.
The bench consisted entirely of youngsters, with a new name in fourth-choice keeper Taylor Seymour.
Substitutes Harry Jewitt-White, Harry Kavanagh, Seok Jae Lee and Harrison Brook also made their first-team bow in that 1-0 defeat to the Hammers.
As for Cheltenham, they named eight changes to the team which won 5-3 at Whaddon Road against Exeter at the weekend.
The League Two side also included two first-year scholars on the bench as they rotated their resources for the Blues’ visit.
After just two minutes, Pompey had a scare when Tom Sang produced a wonderful cross from the right crying out to be finished.
Instead, Downing’s clearing header towards his goal nearly entered the net, flashing narrowly over the crossbar.
From the resulting left-wing corner, Robins skipper Ben Tozer swivelled and lifted a shot over when perhaps he should have done far better.
Alfie May had to receive lengthy treatment on the pitch but was able to continue, only for Rasmus Nicolaisen to then step on his foot moments later as he attempted an interception.
It upset the home fans, who called for the Danish defender to be punished for his foul, but just a free-kick was forthcoming.
On 10 minutes, Close delivered a wonderful ball from his own half over the top to find Cam Pring racing down the left, yet the offside flag was raised.
Close was looking impressive early on from deep and another excellent pass, this time down the right to Stanley, but his drilled cross from the right was blocked.
The Blues took the lead on 15 minutes through a well-taken Mnoga finish.
Close delivered a diagonal pass which picked out the right-wing back, who had ghosted in behind the defence.
The teenager took a touch with his right foot before placing an angled left-footed finish into the fair bottom corner of the net with impressive composure.
Moments later, Bolton’s loose pad gifted possession to the visitors outside the box, with Mnoga making a slide challenge on Finn Azaz to halt him.
There were appeals for a penalty, but referee Kevin Johnson was not interested, much to supporters’ disappointment.
Mnoga collected the game’s first booking on 25 minutes, following a strong challenge on Aziz.
A lovely move from the Blues made it 2-0 on 29 minutes, started and finished by Hiwula.
The striker flicked on Close’s ball forwards, finding Pring on the left, who delivered a measured cross into the box.
That was headed back by Stanley - and Hiwula popped up to nick it past the advancing Scott Flinders from close range into the net.
Cheltenham could have reduced the arrears on 35 minutes when Dan Bowry pulled the ball back from the right and Andy Williams rifled a first-time shot past the post.
After the break, the hosts brought on Matty Blair and George Lloyd for May and Tozer.
On 50 minutes it was 3-0, with Hiwula grabbing the second after put down the line by a quick free-kick from Bryn Morris.
The striker beat the offside trap and cut inside before finished with ease for the ex-Coventry man’s third for the club.
Hiwual was looking for his hat-trick and when he met Pring’s cross from the left with a header, Flinders acrobatically pushed it around the post.
From the resulting corner, Bolton should really have made it four, yet somehow missed from close range.
On 62 minutes, Gerard Storey came off the bench for his Blues debut, replacing Bell in midfield.
In a rare Cheltenham attack on 68 minutes, Bolton was forced to head off the line as the ball popped around the box dangerously.
At the other end, Pring’s free-kick was met with a far-post header from Downing, but Flinders produced a sprawling save to push it out for a corner.
Pompey didn’t come close to adding to their victory after that as they comfortably saw out yet another EFL Trophy win, their 20th with Jackett as manager.
And Mnoga can be delighted with such an impressive audition piece at Whaddon Road.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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