The Football League's most prolific attack - now Portsmouth are even more potent

No team outside the Premier League totalled more goals than Pompey last season.

Saturday, 27th July 2019, 10:00 am
Marcus Harness has added to the wealth of attacking options at the highest-scoring club in the Football League. Picture: Joe Pepler

Once top-flight returns are also taken into account, just Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal exceeded the Blues’ tally of 109.

Effectively, Kenny Jackett’s side were only outgunned by the treble winners, the champions of Europe and the two Europa League finalists.

Oli Hawkins clearly has his detractors, while Pompey’s boss has endured criticism for not handing Brett Pitman sufficient first-team outings.

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Marcus Harness has added to the wealth of attacking options at the highest-scoring club in the Football League. Picture: Joe Pepler

Nonetheless, 109 goals from 62 matches is a prolific outcome by anyone’s standards.

Certainly when compared to the other 91 clubs’ goal hauls in all competitions during the 2018-19 season.

The irony of Pompey perishing in the play-offs having failed to score in both semi-final legs won’t be lost on many.

Jackett’s free-scoring side, as the statistics testify, failed to find the net in just eight of their 62 fixtures – crucially, two of those occurred in the play-offs.

Those Sunderland encounters lodged the parting memory of the campaign, agonising recollections festering over a long summer.

Not unreasonably, supporters craved squad strengthening, particularly in forward positions. As it turned out, so did the manager.

Yet it’s a fallacy to suggest a lacklustre cutting edge, the presence of Hawkins or absence of Pitman hindered Pompey’s promotion aspirations.

A mere four clean sheets from all League One and play-off games during 2019 represents the more accurate reason.

Still, working on the premise Jamal Lowe will remain at Fratton Park, summer recruitment has considerably boosted attacking options hardly lacking in the first place.

Last term, Lowe (17), Pitman (13), Gareth Evans (13), Ronan Curtis (12) and Hawkins (10) all registered double figures in the goal stakes.

Putting that into context, the previous campaign saw Pitman (25) as the sole player to accomplish such a feat.

When Paul Cook steered Pompey to the League Two title in May 2017, only Kal Naismith (15) and Gareth Roberts (10) reached double figures.

At this moment in time, Jackett has retained all five of those leading scorers – and bolstered attacking capabilities by adding Ellis Harrison, Ryan Williams and Marcus Harness.

It's a mouthwatering prospect, further elevating the devastating firepower of a team among the most prolific in the top-four divisions.

Cramming such talent into his trusted 4-2-3-1 is an unenviable task, yet this manager cares little about reputations.

Pitman serves as a case in point, omitted from the first-team squad and featuring just once, albeit off the bench, during a five-week spell earlier this year.

He returned, remodelled as a number 10, to fulfil a talismanic influence during a club record-equalling period of eight-successive victories.

Naturally, with the summer signings in place, coupled with the re-emergence of Louis Dennis, Pitman must again battle for his inclusion.

It is the signing of Harness, though, which throws up the most intriguing selection dilemma.

Pompey splashed out approaching £1m to capture the forward from Burton Albion, representing their biggest transfer fee since August 2011.

Jackett clearly has no intention of condemning such a costly purchase to bench duty over the season's duration.

Incidentally, four weeks earlier, Ellis Harrison arrived from Ipswich in a £450,000 deal.

The club are adamant that payment is not connected to the sell-on the Tractor Boys are entitled to receive as part of Matt Clarke’s Brighton switch.

Regardless, Harrison's fee was the highest since Erik Huseklepp’s £1.5m arrival from Bari almost eight years earlier – then it was doubled by the entrance of Harness.

With a total outlay of around £1.5m for the pair this summer, it’s a signal of intent to their League One rivals.

Harrison will start the season as Jackett's first-choice striker, offering mobility, pace and movement often lacking from the role last term.

It’s a selection made easier considering Hawkins’ friendly absence after sustaining a back problem while training in Dublin.

The fit-again towering striker may be offered match minutes in today’s trip to Crawley for the penultimate pre-season fixture.

Harrison and Hawkins will be challenged by Pitman, who has plundered five goals during friendly appearances so far.

The 31-year-old favours occupying a number 10 position, the role in which he delivered an impact during the final third of last season.

However, the arrivals of Harness and Williams, plus Dennis and Evans, threaten to marginalise a player who is still recognised as club captain.

Evans is another of the established members of Pompey’s squad challenged to retain a presence in that attacking three.

By his own admission, last term signified one of the finest of his career, adjusting superbly to the number 10 requirements with outstanding effect.

The former Fleetwood player was an unused substitute on the opening day, while earned a recall at Blackpool purely because of injury to Dion Donohue during shooting practice.

Yet he would tally 56 appearances, 13 goals, 10 assists and the man-of-the-match accolade in the Checkatrade Trophy Wembley win over Sunderland.

Evans has proven himself across the attacking positions behind the striker, leaving him to now vie with Curtis, Harness, Lowe, Williams, Dennis and, potentially Pitman, for three spots.

Meanwhile Curtis, who admitted he was mentally exhausted at the end of last term, has returned from three weeks off reinvigorated, his trademark energy back at peak levels.

Gary Mackay-Steven’s decision to join New York City when a Pompey medical was calling ensures that, realistically, Williams is the Irishman’s chief threat on the left.

By all accounts, Harness is right footed and more inclined to feature as the number 10 or wide on the right, putting him in direct competition with Williams and Lowe.

Williams, the Australian international returning to the club he graduated from, is pencilled in for a return from his quad injury at Woking on Tuesday evening.

Finally there’s Lowe, a player keen to move to the Championship with Wigan, but now contemplating focusing once again on inspiring Pompey to promotion.

Potentially, he is the Blues’ finest player – and possesses a presence which can be instrumental in the campaign ahead.

Pompey were last season the fifth-highest scorers out of the 92 clubs affiliated to the Premier League and Football League.

Imagine the devastation to be inflicted by Lowe, Harness, Williams, Evans, Curtis, Pitman, Harrison, Dennis and Hawkins in a campaign once more earmarked to fulfil a Championship destiny.