Crawley 1 Portsmouth 2: Neil Allen's verdict - Gareth Evans' late surge suggests Jackett has identified his number 10

Louis Dennis was entrusted with Kenny Jackett’s number 10 mantle when Pompey launched their friendly schedule.

Sunday, 28th July 2019, 12:37 am
Updated Sunday, 28th July 2019, 10:26 am
Gareth Evans tussles for possession in Saturday's 2-1 victory at Crawley. Picture: Joe Pepler

Now, two-and-a-half weeks later, a familiar face is back in the reckoning as the Blues’ starting XI begins to take shape.

Saturday’s trip to Crawley announced the re-emergence of Gareth Evans in a role which reaped 13 goals and 10 assists last term.

For the most part of pre-season, the 31-year-old has operated out wide, while didn’t even appear off the bench at Stevenage a week earlier.

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Yet, at the Broadfield Stadium, it appears the long-serving midfielder is back in vogue in the number 10 position he now favours.

A surprise return to a trusted figure by Jackett – and, fittingly, Evans weighed in with a goal to back that judgement.

A wonderfully-worked move too, Tom Naylor’s first-time through ball releasing Marcus Harness down the right, who flighted a cross into the box.

Then Evans arrived, with a thumping diving header which cannoned off the underside of the bar before settling in the net.

The timing was 20 minutes – and handed the visitors the lead in a fixture which would culminate in a 2-1 triumph.

Earlier in the month, Dennis was the man of the moment, with two goals and two assists during a magnificent 45-minute showing against UCD.

He then lined-up against the Hawks upon the Blues’ return to England, yet hasn’t appeared since, certainly in fixtures outside of closed doors.

Andy Cannon, another once championed for the position, has drifted away from contention, while Brett Pitman still has something to offer as a conventional striker.

Suddenly, Evans has initiated a late surge to establish a presence in the starting XI at Shrewsbury next Saturday.

The final audition is being held at Woking on Tuesday night, a Pompey XI fixture which will feature Jackett’s fringe performers, such as Dennis and Cannon.

Meanwhile, Evans has now elevated himself into a first-team contender, a player Jackett has often admitted cannot be written off.

Still, his involvement at Crawley wasn’t the sole surprising selection, with Christian Burgess partnering Paul Downing in the centre of defence.

Downing has already been paired with Sean Raggett and Tom Naylor during the friendly programme, now it was the turn of Burgess

With Raggett sidelined following stitches to an elbow injury and Naylor pushed back into midfield, it was the long-serving defender’s chance to impress.

Elsewhere, wantaway Jamal Lowe was condemned to the bench and not called upon during the game’s duration.

With Jackett afterwards indicating the unsettled winger will also not feature at Woking, it appears that summer saga is reaching a conclusion.

Of those on display, though, it was Naylor who added to Evans’ goal, sweeping home a shot after Lee Brown had laid off Ellis Harrison’s right-wing cross into his path.

Former Hawks striker Ollie Palmer wasted two excellent opportunities to reduce the deficit before substitute Mason Bloomfield rifled in an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area on 80 minutes to make it 2-1.

In the game’s dying moments, Jackett made a flurry of substitutions, yet Evans, his skipper and goalscorer, remained on the pitch.

With Shrewsbury looming, it appears he is settling into the role once again.

 

Pompey: MacGillivray, Walkes, Downing, Burgess, Brown (86 mins Haunstrup), Naylor, McCrorie (88 mins Close), Harness, Evans, Curtis (86 mins Cannon), Harrison (86 mins Pitman).

Subs Not Used: Bass, Hawkins, Lowe, Bolton, Dennis.

Attendance; 1,777 (688 away).