Marcus Harness lights touchpaper on Portsmouth return against Bolton while defender offers more balance
Sports writer Will Rooney picks out the talking points from Pompey’s 1-0 win over Bolton on Saturday...
Harness lights the touchpaper
The Fratton faithful were crying out for Marcus Harness to be introduced at half-time.
Pompey had struggled to get going in the first half, with Bolton having by far the better goalscoring opportunities.
It came as a surprise, though, that it was Ryan Williams and not Ronan Curtis who was withdrawn – especially as the Aussie’s jinking run, which drew a foul from Jack Hobbs, won the Blues a free-kick in a dangerous area shortly before the interval.
Nevertheless, Harness’ verve and zeal was necessary – and he made an excellent impact on his return from a thigh injury.
It was the former Burton's winger's impact that really sparked the Blues into life and changed the tide of the game.
His gusto pepped Pompey up and they dominated the second period.
It was Harness’ cross that caused the Trotters all sorts of problems in the 59th minute, leading to John Marquis being fouled and a penalty being awarded – which was subsequently missed by Brett Pitman,
Moments later, the Coventry-born ace ghosted inside and created space for himself, only to crack a 30-yard effort just wide.
Then there was Harness’ moment of magic late on when he nutmegged a Bolton defender and pulled a ball back for Ben Close, who failed to keep his shot down and should have done better.
In his absence, Pompey have missed Harness’ creativity and penchant to make things happen in the final third.
Now he’s back, the Blues will be desperate the 23-year-old stays fit as his presence is imperative if they’re to climb up the table.
Pompey have been crying out for balance down the right-hand side of defence this season.
It would be fair to say that it’s hampered the Blues during their stuttering start to the campaign.
Anton Walkes’ crossing wasn't up to the standard required, while Ross McCrorie and Christian Burgess featuring in makeshift roles were always temporary measures until James Bolton regained fitness.
The summer arrival from Shrewsbury now has five games under his belt after returning from his ankle injury and is beginning to give the Blues the balance they coveted.
Bolton’s had to remain patient during the formative stages of his Fratton Park career – but he displayed his attributes against the Trotters.
On the back of patient build-up play from Pompey, it was his composed delivery that picked out Brett Pitman on 66 minutes, with the deadly marksman heading home superbly after hanging in the air.
And moments later, Bolton again found himself space down the wing and whipped in another dangerous centre, only for it to be turned around for a corner.
With players with the aerial prowess of Pitman and John Marquis in the danger area, supplying them with the right service is key if the Blues are to be successful.
It’s something Pompey haven’t done enough so far this term but Bolton’s demonstrated he can help change that.
Win must be a springboard
The pre-match mood around Fratton Park was fairly sombre.
As half-time approached, you could feel the apathy and frustration around PO4. If it weren’t for Brett Pitman’s late free-kick that was saved by visiting keeper Remi Matthews, there might have been a few more boos than what did ring out.
In the opening 45 minutes, Pompey were on the back foot against a Bolton side that was quickly cobbled together after financially difficulties and marooned to the bottom of the table.
But the Blues got the job done.
They delivered their first League One victory since August 10 and it must have been a gargantuan weight off Kenny Jackett and his troops’ shoulders.
It wasn’t a stylish, commanding performance that many would have demanded and expected against the struggling Trotters.
But three points were all that mattered, all that would have been thought about in the build-up.
As Kenny Jackett pinpointed after the game, confidence is hard-earned and it’s been low in recent weeks.
Nevertheless, the success will instil a bit more belief into the dressing room and it must be used as a springboard to start delivering on a consistent basis.