Walsall 1 Portsmouth 2: Neil Allen's verdict - Craig MacGillivray's spot of class again pivotal in bid for more EFL Trophy glory
The Wembley penalty hero, whose Pompey place is under increasing threat, delivered a timely reminder of his talents at the Bescot Stadium.
Craig MacGillivray, the Blues’ undisputed first choice, reflected by the number sported on his back this season, has found himself surprisingly dislodged in recent weeks.
For the previous two matches, the highly-regarded Alex Bass has taken over goalkeeping duties – and done little wrong in his shock stint.
Intriguingly, it was MacGillivray who was recalled and handed duties at Walsall last night in the Leasing.com Trophy, a competition in which Bass had been ever-present over four earlier fixtures.
Whether that represents a switching of roles ahead of AFC Wimbledon’s visit to Fratton Park on Saturday remains to be seen.
Nonetheless, in the meantime, the Scot’s penalty save on the stroke of half-time proved pivotal in the Blues’ 2-1 success as they progressed into the quarter-finals.
John Marquis’ seventh goal of the campaign had handed Kenny Jackett’s men a 23rd-minute lead against their League Two hosts.
Yet the centre-half pairing of Paul Downing and Sean Raggett continued to creak in an unconvincing back four containing Christian Burgess at left-back.
Then, on the stroke of half-time, a penalty was awarded against Raggett - and up stepped Elijah Adebayo.
MacGillivray, who saved Lee Catermole’s spot kick in the March 2019 Checkatrade Trophy final triumph over Sunderland, repeated his trick, flinging himself to his right to brilliantly keep out the Walsall striker’s effort.
It ensured Pompey retained a lead which would be doubled by substitute Ellis Harrison in the 82nd minute.
Former Blues loanee Caolan Lavery created a tense finale when he pulled one back from the spot, this time Downing the culprit, sending the keeper the wrong way.
Yet Jackett’s men had enough to see out five minutes of time added on and claim further progression in a competition which has proven something of a love affair.
Underpinning that 2-1 victory, of course, was that MacGillivray penalty save, a familiar feature in the EFL Trophy.
Jackett made seven changes to the side which won at Fleetwood at the weekend, among them the introduction of Hackett-Fairchild for his debut.
Gareth Evans also returned, installed as skipper, with Craig MacGillivray replacing Alex Bass, while right-back Haji Mnoga made his first appearance of a campaign wrecked by a freak injury.
Intriguingly, Jackett named three centre-halves in his starting line-up, ensuring his formation was unclear until the match kicked off.
As it turned out, Burgess was called upon to serve at left-back, allowing Raggett and Downing to partner each other in the centre of defence.
Maintaining his favoured 4-2-3-1, Jackett operated with Evans and Ben Close in the holding roles and John Marquis behind lone striker Oli Hawkins.
As expected, there was no place in the squad for Brett Pitman, a decision explained by Joe Gallen during the build-up, while Ronan Curtis travelled as the 19th man.
When the match got underway, Walsall carved out a decent opening on seven minutes.
Full-back Cameron Norman crossed from the right and Elijah Adebayo rose ahead of Downing and Mnoga at the far post to plant a header which MacGillivray comfortably gathered.
On 13 minutes, Hawkins exchanged passes with Marquis to release the latter on the right-hand side of the penalty area and present a shooting opportunity.
Marquis’ right-foot angled attempt was blocked by keeper Liam Roberts, although it could have been deemed a low cross.
There was a lovely move involving Hawkins on 22 minutes, superbly holding up Harness’ long ball from the right before slipping a sublime ball through the middle for Marquis.
The striker’s first-time shot was blocked by the legs of Walsall’s keeper, earning the corner which would break the deadlock.
That was delivered from the left by Evans, met by a Burgess far-post header header which was forced home from close range by Marquis to make it 1-0.
Walsall responded with a lofted diagonal cross from Norman down the right, with Downing and MacGillivray hesitant in dealing with it.
That let in Adebayo, whose attempted lob thankfully looped into the hands of MacGillivray as the striker failed to capitalise.
Pompey should have doubled their advantage on the half-hour mark when Evans’ cross from the right was headed back by Marquis, only for Hawkins, with back to goal, to swivel and blaze over the bar from close range.
There was an injury scare for Hackett-Fairchild on 36 minutes when he Injured his foot while defending against Norman on the byline.
Following treatment from Bobby Bacic, the physio signalled for a substitution, yet the player felt better as he walked along the touchline and returned to the action.
Hackett-Fairchild then collected the first booking of the game, following a foul on Rory Holden, much to the appreciation of the home support who had been screaming for a yellow card upon every foul.
On the stroke of half-time, Walsall won a penalty after Raggett was adjudged to have fouled Gaffney with a challenge.
Yet MacGillivray dived to his right to brilliantly keep out Adebayo’s penalty and concede a corner.
The second half got underway yet there was little change in the game’s momentum, prompting a double substitution for the hosts on 56 minutes, with Caolan Lavery and Wes McDonald introduced.
Pompey themselves made a double change on 63 minutes, debutant Hackett-Fairchild and Mnoga brought off for Steve Seddon and Tom Naylor.
That meant Seddon moving to left-back, while Burgess once more demonstrated his versatility by moving across to right-back.
Seddon was immediately involved, delivering a cross from the left which was met with a first-time shot from Hawkins, yet straight at Roberts.
A quick counter-attack was launched by Naylor’s precise pass through to Marquis, but a superb covering tackle thwarted the striker, which Evans’ follow-up was blocked to earn a corner.
There was a golden opportunity for Lavery to grab an equaliser when, with Downing appealing for off-side, he galloped through, only to crash his shot wide.
Marquis had another chance to net when the keeper rushed out to block his shot, while Seddon’s follow-up was deflected wide for a corner.
The match was settled on 82 minutes when a tremendous cross from the right by Seddon was powerfully headed home by substitute Harrison.
Walsall grabbed themselves a lifeline on 86 minutes when Downing clumsily bundled into the back of Holden as the Blues conceded another penalty.
Lavery stepped up, with a stutter, to confidently send MacGillivray the wrong way.
There still remained five minutes of time added to negotiate, but Pompey held on and are now in the quarter-finals of the Leasing.com Trophy.