'It was bizarre': Gareth Evans lifts lid on infamous Tom Naylor Portsmouth play-off controversy against Oxford United
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And, according to Gareth Evans, the Blues’ players also regarded the decision to drop Tom Naylor as ‘bizarre’.
However, Kenny Jackett surprisingly dropped skipper Naylor for both legs, despite starting 33 of their 35 league fixtures.
Instead forgotten man Bryn Morris was handed his first competitive outing in 14 months during an injury-ravaged time at Fratton Park.
Jackett attempted to justify the change by afterwards telling Radio Solent: ‘If we're leaving halfway through March it was definitely winter football and this is more like summer football, I think the technical sides are doing well now and we had to adjust.’
And team-mate Evans has his own theory about what was behind Jackett's shock choice.
He told The News: ‘Nothing happened with Tom Naylor, it was bizarre.
‘He was captain and, during Covid, we trained for two months solid leading up to the semi-final and, when Kenny announced the team, Nayls wasn’t in it.
‘We didn’t have a clue. We would have been aware of him having any sort of argument or confrontation with the manager, but there wasn’t one. Instead it was explained as a tactical decision.
‘Bryn Morris had really looked after himself during Covid. We had an app called Strava and whenever you did a run or anything, it would go through your Apple Watch and be automatically logged.
‘We could see everyone’s activities and Bryn was running himself into the ground. There would be three 5km runs a day – and in really good times. Perhaps that impressed Kenny and Joe?
‘Everyone was working hard, but there’s only so much you can do. So lads would do a run in the morning and then go for a swim or cycle in the afternoon.
‘At the end of the week, on the Sunday, if you went onto the app there would be a leaderboard, such as who had run the most, who had cycled the most, who had swum the most. Bryn would be far and away ahead of everyone.
‘He was doing a ridiculous amount of stuff. Everyone else was thinking “He’s doing too much, he’s going to end up injured or burning himself out”.
‘Ahead of the semi-final, we were training at Fratton Park, Kenny lined-up his team and Naylor wasn’t in it. This was the captain who played every game.
‘But Jackett said “That’s the team I’m going with”, pinned it on the noticeboard and that was it.
‘I don’t think people were baffled to the point where they thought Nayls was better than Bryn or anything like that. They just thought Naylor was his boy and the first name on the team sheet.’
Naylor wouldn’t play a single minute of the play-offs, serving as an unused substitute during the two-legged semi-final defeat to Oxford United.
Evans admits his team-mates thought the ex-Burton man would subsequently be sold in the summer of 2020 following that rejection.
Instead Naylor started the 2020-21 campaign back in the team – partnering Morris in the centre of midfield.
Evans added: ‘Nayls had an issue with it, but didn’t really kick up a stink, instead leaving any confrontation with the manager until after the play-offs.
‘Even then, I don’t think he said anything and they just went into the next season and carried on as normal. It was weird.
‘Everyone was thinking it was Kenny opening the door for Naylor to leave in the summer, we believed it was the end of him, that he was going back up north.
‘Then we returned for the first day of pre-season and it was like nothing had ever happened!’