Nervy finish again from Portsmouth but Blues stand on brink of history - Neil Allen's verdict from win against Scunthorpe
In the often maligned history of the EFL Trophy, there has yet to be a side to retain it.
Today, Pompey stand two results away from claiming that maiden achievement, following victory over Scunthorpe.
A 2-1 success at Fratton Park and the reigning holders have returned to the semi-final stage of the competition.
Similar to the weekend win at Bolton, Kenny Jackett’s men performed with far more conviction in the first half, taking the lead – on this occasion through John Marquis.
They were subsequently reduced to dangerously sitting deep after the break, inviting pressure, and how Scunthorpe seized such generosity.
There was a leveller on 62 minutes through a stunning strike from Abo Eisa, no more than they deserved quite frankly.
However, there was a Fratton winner against the run of play through Cameron McGeehan’s first for the club – the Barnsley loanee savouring the moment in front of the Fratton End.
Certainly, all smiles, albeit masking concerns of Pompey once again dropping deep to create a needlessly nervy finish, this time against League Two opposition.
Still, there’s a semi-final draw to look forward on Saturday evening, with the Blues in the frame for successive Wembley appearances in the EFL Trophy.
Granted, the performance was a little unconvincing in parts, but this team has developed a stubborn streak, with two defeats in their past 20 matches.
They also know how to win, their latest positive outcome witnessed by a Fratton Park crowd of 5,382 as Jackett’s transformation of this side continues with impressive results.
And to top it all off, Jack Whatmough came through his first appearance for 11 months with apparent ease, earning him the man-of-the-match accolade.
No wonder the Fratton faithful are singing about Wembley once more in a tournament they cannot but enjoy themselves in.
Jackett made six changes for the visit of the League Two side as he fielded a healthy-looking line-up.
The returning Whatmough was paired with Sean Raggett as the central defensive pairing, with Brandon Haunstrup coming in at right-back.
With Tom Naylor moved to the bench, Ben Close was recalled to play alongside McGeehan in the holding roles, while Ryan Williams occupied the left flank.
Gareth Evans, omitted from the 18-man squad at Bolton last weekend, was handed a start as well as the captaincy.
Meanwhile, Marquis was pushed forward into his favoured striking role, rather than maintaining the number 10 experiment which is failing to sparkle.
Craig MacGillivray also replaced Alex Bass in goal.
However, once again there was no place in the squad for Brett Pitman and Paul Downing, with the transfer window ticking down on settling their Fratton futures.
In the opening minute, Marquis’ attempted lay-off put the Blues in trouble, culminating with Eisa drilling in a low shot which deflected off the foot of Whatmough towards goal.
However, MacGillivray was alert to the situation, gathering safely despite the ball’s sudden change of direction.
Pompey’s first attempt arrived through Evans on seven minutes, beautifully bringing down Marcus Harness’ ball down the right before firing a fierce angled shot which was beaten out by keeper Rory Watson.
Then John McAtee’s misdirected clearance gifted the Blues a corner down the right, but Raggett couldn’t manoeuvre himself to meet Haunstrup’s subsequent delivery.
The deadlock was broken on 13 minutes through the in-form Marquis.
Williams drove the ball into the box from the left and the striker collected the ball, spun in an attempt to create space, and then smartly finished right-footed into the far corner.
The hosts came within a whisker of doubling their advantage on 26 minutes following good work from Williams down the left.
The Australian presented the ball to McGeehan, who strode forward to break into the box and then fire a shot narrowly past the far post with the keeper out of the equation.
On 39 minutes Evans lofted it over the top for Marquis to gallop on to and his angled right-footed shot was brilliantly pushed around the post by Watson.
Scunthorpe threatened for the first time moments later, with James Perch’s shot from outside the box finger-tipped around the post by MacGillivray.
The Blues entered half-time with a 1-0 advantage, although frustratingly hadn’t threatened sufficiently to add to their slender advantage.
Barely four minutes into the second half and James Bolton was withdrawn through injury, with Christian Burgess coming off the bench to fill in at right-back.
The Iron earned themselves two corners in quick succession during the early stages as the match failed to find its feet following the break.
Pompey were struggling to find a way out of their own half and, on 57 minutes, Eisa let fly with a fierce long-range attempt which wasn’t far off.
Scunthorpe levelled on 62 minutes, deservedly so, considering the pressure they had been applying during the half.
Eisa motored down the left flank before cutting inside and crashing a magnificent right-footed shot into the far corner of the net.
The goal barely stung the hosts into a response but, against the run of play, they suddenly found themselves back in front on 66 minutes.
Harness was the architect, driving forward through the middle but perfectly timing a lay-off to McGeehan on the outside to his right.
The loanee did the rest, with a lovely angled right-footed finish to make it 2-1 and milk the applause of the Fratton Park.
Pompey had rediscovered their composure and Marquis should really have done better when Harness pulled the ball into this path.
Yet, with the goal to aim at, he crashed a shot straight at Watson.
Scunthorpe made their first substitution on 78 minutes, with Lee Novak replaced by Kevin van Veen, swiftly followed by Alfie Beestin on for McAtee.
The Blues were again guilty of sitting deep and were fortunate when van Veen struck the ball across the face of goal from the right, but just out of reach of Beestin.
Yet that was to be the last scare as they reached the semi-finals to put themselves within reach of a Wembley return.