Oxford United 2 Portsmouth 2, Penalties 5-4: Neil Allen's verdict - Brilliant Bass shows safe hands for Gillingham visit
If Pompey possess concerns over facing Gillingham deprived of their international number one, Alex Bass’ Kassam Stadium display surely calmed such fears.
With Craig MacGillivray’s unbroken League One presence severed through Scotland commitments, his 21-year-old replacement has been identified.
The ever-patient Bass’ Leasing.com Trophy outing represented a seventh appearance in four seasons for the Blues.
Nonetheless, he produced a stunning performance – bordering on the improbable – to fend off Oxford United in a 2-2 draw.
And then saved a penalty in the subsequent shootout.
In each half the Pompey Academy product was a lively performer, pulling off a number of magnificent stops while, on occasions, demonstrating assured handling and nerveless footwork.
Certainly a timely audition piece ahead of what will be only his second Football League appearance in Saturday’s Fratton Park clash with Gillingham.
If any of the Fratton faithful harbour worries about the Blues coping in the absence of the talented MacGillivray, the youngster continues to suggest he is an excellent understudy.
It would have been a third-straight victory for Kenny Jackett’s side too – had Rob Dickie not levelled in stoppage-time, giving Bass no chance.
That sent the fixture into penalties, where the scenario progressed to four successful spot-kicks each after six attempts.
Then Brandon Haunstrup scored and with Sam Long blazing over the bar, Pompey thereby seized another point to ensure they top their group – and have a home tie in the next round.
Jackett had handed a maiden first-team bow to Harvey Rew, who was among five teenagers on display, all to have emerged through the club’s academy set-up.
Aged 17 years and 14 days, the first-year scholar – and son of ex-Gosport Borough defender Ian – is the ninth-youngest debutant in Pompey post-war history.
In contrast, eight of Oxford’s starting line-up featured in their 2-2 draw at Accrington on Saturday, not least Cameron Brannagan, who scored in that encounter.
The deadlock was broken on 21 minutes, Shandon Baptiste slipping the ball through the heart of Pompey’s defence and Matty Taylor finding it too easy to gallop on to and shoot past the exposed Bass.
The visitors’ leveller arrived on 33 minutes through Gosport youngster Lethbridge’s first for the club.
Andy Cannon pulled the ball back to Josh Flint, whose left-footed effort deflected to the far post where his former Academy team-mate’s right-footed shot was parried by Simon Eastwood, yet still crept over the line.
With Gareth Evans and Ben Close on the pitch for Rew and Flint in the second half, the match was heading for a 1-1 draw until Anton Walkes prodded home Cannon’s pass with five minutes remaining.
Following Dickie’s intervention, Evans, Ellis Harrison, Ryan Williams and Paul Downing all netted in the shootout, with Walkes and Close failing – yet a 5-4 victory was soon Pompey’s.