Luton 1 Portsmouth 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Scoring revelation Gassan Ahadme is raising an unrealistic bar, he needs fan patience
Gassan Ahadme is cranking up the hype and hoisting expectations skywards.
The bar is being raised with every glorious pre-season display delivered by the in-form striker who is proving such a Pompey revelation.
Ahadme can do no wrong at present, as eight goals in four appearances will testify, the latest arriving against Championship opposition Luton on Saturday.
In the process, the artist formerly known as Triallist H is, by his own hand, edging dangerously closer towards establishing an unrealistic level to be judged.
The Blues’ surprise package has burst from nowhere to deliver an overwhelmingly positive message throughout their summer friendly programme.
In the process, the 20-year-old with two competitive appearances to his name and yet to make a Football League debut is piling immense pressure upon himself for the campaign ahead.
There will be those anticipating the goals continuing to flow from the Norwich rookie once League One kicks off in a fortnight’s time.
Yet proceed with caution. This is pre-season, a period when Ryan Bird and Eugen Bopp once excelled.
Ahadme turned in an outstanding all-round showing in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Kenilworth Road, providing more compelling evidence his arrival could be a Danny Cowley masterstroke.
In truth, it’s a welcome distraction from the fact Pompey’s striking options are still uncomfortably short.
John Marquis and Ellis Harrison, expensive purchases unable to fire the Blues into the Championship in two previous seasons, still remain at Fratton Park.
Now they have been joined by a player whose sole senior appearances have arrived in the EFL Trophy, irrespective of captivating pre-season contributions.
Perhaps Ahadme can transform his fellow forwards, who have often been so unconvincing. Certainly Marquis has weighed in with quality assists in each of the last two friendlies.
Yet it will involve reliance on an inexperienced player maintaining scintillating summer form to spearhead a supposed promotion challenge from Cowley’s men.
There is a lot beginning to be heaped onto this young man’s shoulders.
That is not to degrade Ahadme, undoubtedly there is plenty to admire about the Moroccan – not merely his eye-catching goal return either.
Against Luton, he dropped shorter than Marquis and demonstrated excellent work-rate, a willingness to battle and genuine desire to press opposition into mistakes.
If anything, it was such aspects which were more pleasing than the 12th-minute equaliser he netted against Luton.
The impressive Elijah Adebayo handed the hosts the lead of 10 minutes, collecting Fred Onyedinma’s ball into the box and curling a right-footed shot past Alex Bass.
Moments later, Bass’ kick upfield was headed by Ronan Curtis inside to Marquis, who steered a first-time pass into the path of Ahadme.
The youngster took two touches before conjuring up a smart right-footed finish for the leveller – and his eighth goal of a prolific summer.
As the game unfolded, Ahadme demonstrated he’s not just capable of scoring goals in pre-season, he can also constructively benefit the side in other ways, proving himself a handful in the process.
Not since Brett Pitman was in his pomp – or even Oli Hawkins on occasions – has a Pompey central striker consistently troubled an opposing defence and been difficult to handle.
Undoubtedly the Hatters contained such a player on Saturday in Adebayo, an awkward, towering customer who bullied the Blues from start to finish.
Ahadme is, of course, not yet near the level of the former Bognor man, nonetheless there is willing and we shall watch his development with interest.
Let’s not forget, Cowley thought he had captured Jayden Stockley and, for a while, eyed Joe Pigott as a target man this summer. It’s a precise position clearly unfulfilled at present.
Instead the Norwich youngster is vying with Marquis and fit-again Harrison in a front line which desperately requires further strengthening, irrespective of Ahadme’s surprise impact.
Still, he was one of several positives emerging from Cowley’s latest Pompey friendly ahead of League One’s August 7 kick off.
The Blues’ head coach opted to retain the same starting XI which lined up at Bristol City on Tuesday, delivering an obvious hint at his favoured first-team at present.
With Lee Brown recovering from the knock to his left knee which forced him out so early in that 3-3 draw, it was same again for Cowley against successive Championship opposition.
Albeit it was team selection made easier with Gavin Bazunu not yet ready to return from his quad problem, while Paul Downing continues to be sidelined by a hamstring issue.
At least Bazunu was on the bench, although that may have been out of necessity, with no other available goalkeeping back-up to Alex Bass following the collapse of triallist Corey Addai’s transfer.
Elsewhere, Michael Jacobs was on the bench after three-and-a-half months out with knee ligament problems, Ryan Tunnicliffe was made skipper against his former club, while Ronan Curtis, Marcus Harness, Marquis and Ahadme represented the attacking options.
In fairness to Curtis, despite his desire to test himself in the Championship next season, he turned in another hard-working display on the left flank.
When substitute Jayden Reid was forced off with a problem to his left knee after just six minutes on the pitch, the previously-removed Curtis returned to action to deputise for the final moments of the match.
The Irishman is giving no indication that he’s intent on following the path of Jamal Lowe and his infamous Stevenage friendly display in July 2019.
Noticeably, triallist numbers were also reduced, with Sam Habergham, Brandon Mason, Jay Mingi and Addai having left the club.
Although, in the case of Mingi and Addai, the Blues had been exploring making their stays permanent, only for the deals to fall through at a late stage.
However, Sean Goss and Elijah Dixon-Bonner remained from the squad against Bristol City, joined by the arrival of former Chelsea left-back Renedi Masampu, with all appearing late in the second half.
Yet Saturday was all about a triallist whose goals earned him a season-long loan stay at Fratton Park.
Let’s hope Gassan Ahadme can continue to scale the admirable heights he has set himself.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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