Portsmouth 2 Tranmere 0: Neil Allen's verdict - Will Ferrell stole the show, but Ben Close and Andy Cannon got the standing ovation

Not everybody was enraptured by the regal presence of Hollywood royalty.

Sunday, 11th August 2019, 9:39 am
Updated Sunday, 11th August 2019, 1:56 pm

‘I’ve never heard of him,’ one disinterested Pompey fan was overhead to utter. ‘When I watched films, Burt Lancaster was in them.’

Still, the presence of Will Ferrell was sufficient to lure Kenny Jackett into a post-match photograph request – along with his star-struck playing squad.

Not since the sporadic Fratton Park appearances of George Best during the Milan Mandaric era had the directors’ box been quite so enthusiastically surveyed.

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The football shirt parading, burger guzzling, habitually-hallucinating Sulaiman Al Fahim excepted, of course.

Not even the sublime Ben Close’s show-stopping strike and a Pompey triumph managed to steal the limelight from the star of Anchorman, Elf and Blades of Glory.

Ferrell’s attendance had been one-and-a-half weeks in the planning, orchestrated by close friend Breck Eisner, son of Blues chairman Michael.

Certainly his striking appearance provided the prevalent talking point among those present, irrespective of the outcome against Tranmere.

Will Farrell, right, with Pompey chairman Michael Eisner Picture: Joe Pepler

Yet diverting the gaze from the intriguing sideshow, there remained a match for Pompey to focus upon.

Saturday’s fixture had escalated in importance following the disappointment of the opening day trip to Shrewsbury. Hardly a must win, nonetheless a win was a must.

Considering the drearily-familiar trek to Sunderland which looms next on the horizon, how Jackett’s promotion pretenders required a positive result against Rovers.

What unfolded was a 2-0 triumph, a scoreline which should have been more emphatic in truth, yet represented a timely achievement.

Tom Naylor nets Pompey's second goal in Saturday's 2-0 victory over Tranmere. Picture: Joe Pepler

The manner of its accomplishment was also unmistakably heartening, built upon a strong defensive display and an attacking dominance which ensured the hosts comfortably eased their way to victory.

Granted, the crucial second goal did not arrive until 15 minutes from time, needlessly sparking nagging fears of an ill-deserved spoiler from Micky Mellon’s side.

Not that Craig MacGillivray was particularly challenged as he recorded successive clean sheets in consecutive Fratton Park fixtures.

There was plenty to appreciate from the Blues’ showing, in particular the re-emergence of Andy Cannon.

His ability was once judged by time spent on the treatment table, others condemned him through the identity of his previous club rather than Pompey first-team performances.

Written of while enduring such terrible injury misfortune since his January arrival from Rochdale.

On Saturday, upon his fourth appearance in Blues colours, he produced a man-of-the-match display, and was handed a standing ovation following his substitution on 68 minutes.

In accordance with football’s new law changes, the introduction of Brett Pitman meant Cannon had to leave the pitch at the nearest touchline.

In this instance, it involved him walking around the outside of the pitch from the North stand, with supporters generously demonstrating their appreciation during the dug-out journey, recognising an energetic, committed display.

The Fratton end even delivered a rendition of ‘There’s Only One Andy Cannon’, surely a moment to cherish for a softly-spoken, unassuming 23-year-old still attempting to establish himself.

Cannon’s presence in the starting XI had been secured following Tuesday night’s 3-0 Carabao Cup success against Championship side Birmingham.

Jackett elected to name an unchanged side, with Close and Ellis Harrison also retaining their places.

The returns of Ross McCrorie from suspension and John Marquis after the birth of his child had considerably bolstered Pompey options, yet both were on the bench.

Instead, Jackett opted to stick to a winning formula – and was rewarded with the Blues’ maiden win of the League One campaign.

Pompey's boss later announced his side were ‘on our way’, certainly they are now off the mark in a season when expectations will rightly dictate there must be promotion.

While the resurrected Cannon feels like a new signing, genuine fresh faces Paul Downing and Marcus Harness continue to enjoy a favourable honeymoon during their Fratton Park careers.

Downing, first choice among all of Jackett’s central defensive options, represents a composed figure whose reading of the game is emphasised by an uncanny ability to step forward and intercept an opposition pass.

It’s a trademark reminiscent of former favourite Ricardo Rocha and already, early in his Pompey career, the ex-Doncaster man is suggesting he has proven an astute signing.

Presently he partners Christian Burgess, who has continued the impressive form he ended last season, despite now serving as the left-sided centre-back.

As for Harness, challenged to replace Jamal Lowe, initial indications are he possesses quicker feet and greater skill than his predecessor, yet lacks the overwhelming goal output.

On one occasion in the second half, the winger cleverly dribbled through several players inside the Tranmere penalty area, before teeing up Anton Walkes for a wild shot.

In the game’s dying seconds, he galloped down the right on the counter attack, before unselfishly delivering a ball into the path of Ronan Curtis, who couldn’t get better of the last man in keeper Scott Davies.

Still, it was the familiar figure of Close which handed Pompey the advantage on 27 minutes in spectacular style.

Tom Naylor’s thumping volley from Harness’ cross had already been superbly saved by Davies, while, in the ensuing corner, Cannon’s shot was again blocked by the keeper.

The ball ricocheted to Close, positioned 30 yards from goal, and he crashed a stunning first-time right-footed effort which arrowed into the top corner of the net.

A magnificent strike from the local lad, who stood motionless to soak up the adulation of the 18,575 present for an early goal of the season contender.

Naylor completed victory on 75 minutes, after Downing’s header from Lee Brown’s right-wing corner had been blocked on the line by David Perkins.

Pompey’s skipper popped up to steer the ball home from the edge of the six-yard box and seal the 2-0 triumph.

There could have been other goals too, with birthday boy Brown and Curtis having goals ruled out for offside, while Cannon struck the post.

Substitute Pitman also saw a goal-bound shot strike the upper body of team-mate Downing to deny the hosts another as Tranmere battled to keep them at bay.

Regardless, Pompey crucially have their first points on the board during their latest attempt to reunite with the Championship.

As Ferrell’s iconic Anchorman would say: You stay classy.