Portsmouth 2-1 Northampton: Neil Allen's match verdict as Blues extend impressive Trophy stats
Pompey’s reign continues in the cup which bears their name after fighting back to defeat Northampton.
Kenny Jackett’s men headed into last night’s Leasing.com Trophy clash boasting a staggering competition return of one loss in 16 matches during his time in charge.
Granted, the Blues did trail for 28 minutes following Michael Harriman’s headed opener during a stirring start from the League Two visitors.
Certainly there must have been thoughts among the Fratton faithful that perhaps Pompey’s period of dominance had now concluded.
Instead, as ever in this format, the Blues mustered up the strength to claim victory – on this occasion inspired by the magnificent Marcus Harness.
Retaining his place in a team consisting of nine changes, the winger was in sparkling form down the right and initiated the comeback.
Firstly, his 39th-minute cross was met with a Leon Maloney header, registering the Isle of Wight youngster’s maiden goal for the club he has served since the age of 10.
There was more of a swagger about the Blues after the break, and the 2,413 crowd were treated to a stunning winner from that man Harness.
The summer recruit from Burton struck a ferocious right-foot volley inside the box on 62 minutes to cap the comeback and seal progress into the third round.
It brought a sixth-straight win for the resilient Jackett, who himself has scrapped back from much fan criticism earlier in the season to reinvigorate the club.
Now Pompey must wait until Thursday evening’s regionalised draw to discover their next opponents in the competition they continue to prevail.
In terms of team selection, of the side which won 2-1 against Altrincham in the FA Cup last weekend, only Anton Walkes and Harness retained their places.
Although, the latter was moved to left-back to accommodate Ross McCrorie in a midfield role alongside Andy Cannon.
It marked McCrorie’s comeback game following four matches sidelined with a hamstring injury – and in his favoured midfield role.
Elsewhere, Saturday’s match-winner from the bench, Brett Pitman, was selected as the lone striker, while also being restored as captain.
Also earning recalls were Alex Bass, James Bolton, Paul Downing, Sean Raggett and Gareth Evans.
In addition, youngster Maloney maintained his ever-present status in this year’s competition, with his fourth start.
In the opening minute, the ball was sloppily allowed to travel through to the visitors’ Matt Warburton inside the box, yet his angled left-footed shot was straight at Bass.
Then a Northampton corner from the left saw Scott Wharton presented with an opportunity at the far post, yet he wastefully headed wide.
It was an uncertain start from the Blues and the visitors unsurprisingly grabbed the lead on 11 minutes.
Joe Martin delivered a superb cross from the left and the unmarked Harriman timed his run superbly to plant an unstoppable header past Bass from six-yards out.
Evans had an opportunity to level on 18 minutes, when Harnuss nicked the ball around the corner for him to run on to.
The midfielder, operating as a number 10, cut inside his man to get the ball on to his left foot and the subsequent shot was blocked by keeper Steve Arnold.
Then McCrorie embarked on a tremendous run from his own half, surging upfield with menace, only for Jordan Turnbull’s block to foil his right-footed attempt on goal.
Pompey were offering far more threat down the right through Harness rather than the opposite flank, and he was developing into a regular source of attack.
On 31 minutes, he clipped a delightful cross into the box which was narrowly over the head of Pitman, yet once again suggested he could have an important say in the fixture.
The equaliser arrived on 39 minutes, inevitably supplied by the boot of Harness down the right.
The winger produced a deep cross and there was Maloney, who stooped to apply a header, with the ball taking a sizeable deflection off Wharton as it found its way into the net.
A skirmish on the South Stand touchline them saw Martin and Bolton booked, with the free-kick awarded in the Blues’ favour following an initial foul on Harness.
During three minutes of time added on, Evans had to receive lengthy treatment outside his penalty area, but was able to continue.
There were no changes at the interval and, within a minute of the restart, Harness dinked in a cross from the byline down the right and Pitman’s header was beaten out by the keeper.
At the other end, on 57 minutes, the Cobblers pierced the heart of Pompey’s defence with an excellent throughball, but substitute Billy Waters drove a right-footed shot straight at Bass, who held.
On the hour mark, Evans delivered a free-kick from the left which was headed back across goal to Pitman, who could only nod it wide from an excellent far-post position.
The Blues took the lead for the first time following a stunning finish from Harness on 62 minutes.
Evans flighted in a left-footed cross from the left and, when partially cleared by the defence, the ball fell invitingly for Harness to crash a fierce right-foot volley into the far corner.
Immediately, Jackett made a double substitution, with John Marquis and Brandon Haunstrup replacing McCrorie and Maloney.
Within seconds a stunning diving stop from Arnold thwarted a certain goal, following Pitman’s header from Harness’ right-wing delivery.
Arnold again came to Northampton’s rescue five minutes from time when Haunstrup’s cross was met with a goalbound shot from Marquis, which the keeper again kept out.
The lead remained narrow, however, with six minutes of time added on to negotiate to ensure the victory the Blues so deserved.
And they reached the target without trouble, making it an outstanding return of one defeat in 17 EFL Trophy fixtures for Pompey boss Jackett.