Farewell Gareth Evans - why his Portsmouth legacy will forever be treasured

Challenged to impress Paul Cook to warrant a Pompey contract, triallist Gareth Evans lay down a marker on that first south-coast day.

Friday, 25th September 2020, 6:00 am
Gareth Evans produces an impromptu song at Pompey's League Two title-winning celebrations on Southsea Common in May 2017. Picture: Joe Pepler
Gareth Evans produces an impromptu song at Pompey's League Two title-winning celebrations on Southsea Common in May 2017. Picture: Joe Pepler

Summoned to Southsea seafront, the Blues’ playing squad were instructed to embark on a six-mile run along the esplanade, while flanked by their manager on a bike barking orders.

Soon pole position was shared between Evans and fellow newcomer Michael Doyle, leaving their team-mates languishing in the slipstream.

Sensing victory and a winning first impression, Evans pulled away to register triumph by a considerable distance, much to the disbelief of his captain, who to this day reminds him of that feat.

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First in, now last out – Evans’ race has sadly been run.

During these times of toxicity which engulf Fratton Park, yesterday afternoon’s news of the attacking midfielder’s impending departure prompted a touching reaction.

Evans refuses to become embroiled in Twitter, wife Hazel instead represents the family in social media circles.

Nonetheless, should those classy supporter tributes have been conveyed, the 32-year-old would surely have wiped away many a tear.

Gareth Evans celebrates scoring against Cheltenham in the League Two finale in May 2017. Picture: Joe Pepler

The Fratton faithful laid down placards directed towards Kenny Jackett to salute the achievements of an immensely popular performer whose legacy will forever be treasured.

Since his July 2015 arrival, Evans has amassed 218 appearances, scored 38 goals, secured the League Two title and captured the Checkatrade Trophy following a man-of-the-match entrance from the bench.

Then there was that spontaneous rendition of a certain song on the microphone during Southsea Common celebrations in May 2017.

It truly is the end of an era.

Gareth Evans made 218 appearances and scored 38 times for Pompey during more than five years at Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler

In the summer of 2015, newly-appointed boss Cook initiated an outstanding recruitment drive armed with the biggest budget yet under community ownership.

It heralded the arrivals of Kyle Bennett, Kal Naismith, Enda Stevens, Gary Roberts, Christian Burgess, Michael Doyle, Matt Clarke, Ben Davies and, of course, Evans.

They’ve gone now, teams evolve, change occurs. The tides of time cannot be halted, especially in an industry as transient as football with short-termism rampant.

Still, this is Evans’ day. The aforementioned group have rightly earned gushing eulogy’s following their Pompey passing, with the midfielder wistfully watching them depart one by one. Now it’s his turn.

This summer, the exit of room-mate and close friend Christian Burgess for Royale Union Saint-Gilloise ensured the former Manchester United youth teamer was the last man standing.

If that wasn’t unsettling enough, Evans’ latest omission from Jackett’s match-day squad, namely Sunday’s goalless draw at Rochdale, convinced him it was now his time to depart.

Having started the opening three matches of the campaign, in the process netting in his sixth consecutive Pompey season, the entrance of Michael Jacobs effectively strengthened his resolve to move on.

Informed by Jackett there would no longer be regular football at Fratton Park, he gazed for opportunity elsewhere.

The destination has not yet been made public. Nonetheless, Evans and his young family’s desire to return to the north-west to be closer to their Manchester roots provides sufficient clues.

In truth, the occasion is right for a parting of the ways. It makes sense for both parties.

Last term’s 17 starts represented the lowest seasonal return in Evans’ career, a concerning statistic for a player who has been a regular at each club he has served with distinction.

He totalled eight Pompey starts in the year 2020, of which three arrived in League One competition.

There was, of course, a brief resurgence when he was restored to Jackett’s side for the start of this campaign. At Brighton, Evans had sunk to the bench. At Spotland, he wasn’t included in the 19-man squad which travelled.

That declining first-team presence contrasts significantly to the player which scored 11 goals in 58 appearances while largely operating in the number 10 role in 2018-19.

During that period, Evans operated behind Oli Hawkins and thrived, linking up with a lone striker equipped with the ability to retain possession and bring others into play.

In that same season, the midfielder had been benched for the Checkatrade Trophy final in March 2019, before appearing in the 56th minute for Ronan Curtis with the Blues trailing 1-0.

His arrival transformed Pompey’s performance, culminating with his cross from the left headed home by Nathan Thompson for an 82nd-minute leveller.

Evans would also successfully net a penalty in the 5-4 shoot-out success which earned Jackett’s side the trophy at a packed Wembley.

Certainly scoring was a precious knack for the ex-Fleetwood man, who registered on his Blues bow against Dagenham & Redbridge in August 2015.

During his second season, when pressed into right-back duty following Ben Davies’ departure and the failings of Drew Talbot, Evans netted six times as Pompey won the League Two title.

That output included a penalty in the promotion-securing match at Notts County and then another from the spot in the memorable 6-1 demolition of Cheltenham to take the title.

As a player, Evans oozed energy and adventure. From wide right, his reliable delivery produced a steady stream of success, while natural scoring instincts earned him an impressive tally of 38 goals.

Granted, Jackett’s decision to substitute him having earlier entered from the bench during the August 2019 trip to Blackpool devastated Evans, the ultimate humiliation for a footballer.

Shortly afterwards, the vice-captaincy was removed during the same responsibility purge which saw skipper Brett Pitman have the captaincy stripped. Another body blow to the likeable Evans.

Tellingly, however, while Pitman ended being ostracised and reduced to training in Whitecliff Park near his Poole home, Evans was kept involved.

It was testament to how highly Jackett continued to regard the midfielder, while respecting his influence within a dressing room which viewed him as a popular figure, without ego and histrionics.

In the summer of 2015, following a season which had seen a proud club finish 16th in League Two and eliminated from the FA Cup by non-league Aldershot, heroes were required.

Perhaps it’s fitting to leave the final words to Gary Roberts, Evans’ Fratton Park colleague for two years.

‘That 2016-17 team left its mark on Pompey and hopefully will be forever remembered,’ he told Played Up Pompey Three.

‘We’ve played a little role in the history of the club, just a very small part, but we have – and it means a hell of a lot to me and the others from that great group of lads.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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