Portsmouth 1 Crawley 0 - Neil Allen's verdict: Wembley skipper Brett Pitman back to inspire
Brett Pitman skippered Pompey at Wembley to claim the Checkatrade Trophy.
So it was fitting the now perennial substitute last night climbed off the bench to successfully begin the defence of their title.
The 31-year-old continues to be overlooked for a presence in Kenny Jackett’s starting line-up this term, sidelined for eight matches to date.
Curiously, the latest omission was against League Two Crawley in the competition rebranded the Leasing.com Trophy.
Still, having replaced Gareth Evans at the interval, Pitman settled matters 20 minutes from time as the holders claimed a 1-0 Fratton Park win.
It had been a sluggish performance from Jackett’s men, craving inspiration on a night in which only Brandon Haunstrup and young Leon Maloney truly shone.
Then, moments after a stunning stop from visiting keeper Michael Luyambula from Ellis Harrison’s header, Pitman rose to the task.
On 70 minutes, Haunstrup delivered another excellent corner from the right and Pitman, with back to goal, hooked in the winner.
Jackett had handed James Bolton his full Pompey debut following an injury-hampered time since joining from Shrewsbury in the summer.
He came in for Christian Burgess at right-back, one of six changes to the side which drew 1-1 at Blackpool at the weekend.
With Craig MacGillivray, Ronan Curtis and Ross McCrorie away on international duty, also making way were Andy Cannon and Marcus Harness.
Yet there remained a strong look about the Blues’ starting XI, with Alex Bass, Sean Raggett, Evans, Harrison and Maloney joining Bolton.
Bass was called into the action after six minutes, when Josh Payne’s shot from long distance was gathered well low down by Pompey’s keeper.
Moments later, Bass produced a superb finger-tip stop to push Mason Bloomfield’s power attempt around the post.
Evans then received lengthy treatment after clattered in the back of his head by Jamie Sendles-White during an aerial challenge, earning the Crawley man a booking.
It took a superb stop from Michael Luyambula to prevent Pompey taking a 40th-minute lead through Maloney.
Evans clipped in a cross from the left and the youngster arrived to connect at the far post, only for the keeper to deflect the attempt wide for a corner.
It took a wonder save from Luyambula on 68 minutes to deny Pompey, the keeper somehow clawing Harrison’s far-post header over the bar after connecting with Haunstrup’s deep cross.
The deadlock was broken on 70 minutes through Pitman, hooking a corner home from six-yards out – and another EFL Trophy victory was theirs.