Portsmouth 2 Colchester 0 - Neil Allen's verdict: Marcus Harness inspires Blues' remarkable EFL Trophy record to continue

Marcus Harness was using a loan spell at Port Vale to crowbar himself into Burton’s first-team the last time Pompey lost in the EFL Trophy.

Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 8:51 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th September 2020, 9:55 pm
Marcus Harness celebrates his first goal in Pompey's EFL Trophy victory over Colchester. Picture: Joe Pepler
Marcus Harness celebrates his first goal in Pompey's EFL Trophy victory over Colchester. Picture: Joe Pepler

Now, two years and eight months later, he was playing a starring role to maintain the Blues’ remarkable record.

Since a last-gasp defeat to Chelsea under-21s in January 2018, Kenny Jackett’s men have been undefeated in the oft-criticised competition.

During that time, it has been known as the Checkatrade Trophy, the Leasing.com Trophy and presently no sponsor is attached at all.

Yet still Pompey reign supreme as holders and also finalists for another fixture still to even take place.

Against Colchester in the opening group game it was Harness who strode forward to drive on their relentless run.

The right-sided winger netted two is any many minutes to light up a drab first half and establish an unassailable 2-0 lead.

It was effectively game over from that point, although the Blues looked far more capable of adding to it than their visitors at a behind-closed-doors Fratton Park.

Until Harness stepped up, a Pompey side featuring debutants Callum Johnson and Cameron Pring at full-back was barely a goal threat.

Still, his participation was pivotal and the hosts kicked off their bizarre defence of the trophy with victory.

Johnson and Pring, both signed in the last eight days, were among four changes to the side which had won at Stevenage in the season’s opener.

Johnson replaced James Bolton at right-back and Pring came in for Lee Brown at left-back in Kenny Jackett’s starting XI against the League Two opposition.

Elsewhere, Craig MacGillivray started in goal, with Alex Bass sidelined by an ankle problem and not included in the match-day 18.

Although the Scot would have been chosen ahead of his rival regardless, following that Carabao Cup win over Stevenage on penalties.

The fourth and final change was Jack Whatmough granted his 99th appearance for the Blues.

The 24-year-old took the place of Paul Downing for only his third appearance of 2020 after recovering from a serious knee injury.

That left central-defensive partner Sean Ragget as the only remaining member of the back four and goalkeeper which lined-up at Stevenage.

Meanwhile, Tom Naylor and Bryn Morris appear to be the preferred central-midfield partnership, while Gareth Evans again operated in the number 10 role.

John Marquis, who netted a superb goal at Stevenage, continued to lead the attack, with fit-again Ellis Harrison on the bench.

After a low-key start to proceedings, Pompey created their first opportunity on 12 minutes after good work by Ronan Curtis.

The Irishman put a great ball in from the left which Marcus Harness couldn’t quite connect with before Marquis slid into the keeper in an attempt to make contact.

Moments later, at the other end, Colchester put in a dangerous ball from the right which Jevani Brown was agonisingly close to touching, only for MacGillivray to gather.

Johnson showed his first glimpse of an attacking force from right-back when Evans threaded a pass out to hi,

The former Accrington man’s cross was slightly overhit, nonetheless still caused the visitors problem when combating it.

The Blues were yet to flow, although Curtis embarked on a magnificent run on 24 minutes, dribbling through the middle and then across the penalty area.

However, his subsequent left-footed shot lacked power and was comfortably gathered by keeper Shamal George.

On the half-hour mark, Harness’ deep ball from the left was nudged forward by the head of Johnson to put Marquis through down the left.

His cross was blocked and, from the resulting corner delivered by Evans, Raggett headed over the bar.

The deadlock was broken on 37 minutes, with Curtis unsurprisingly at the heart of it.

The Irishman slipped the ball inside to Harness who drove in a right-footed shot from the edge of the area, with the keeper barely moving.

Within a minute it was 2-0 to the Blues, with that man Harness again netting.

Whatmough’s lofted pass from his own half sent the winger racing away with the offside flag down.

Harness was composed enough to draw the keeper and drove the ball right-footed into the far corner.

That quick-fire burst suddenly transformed a mundane affair into a comfortable lead for Jackett’s side.

There were strong appeals for a Pompey penalty on the stroke of half-time when Raggett appeared to have his shirt tugged as he attempted to connect with Evans’ corner.

However, the referee was unmoved, also ignoring Raggett’s pleas after running up to him to remonstrate.

The Blues closed the half with Naylor driving a right-footed shot just past the post from around 25-yards.

There were no changes at the break, not that there needed to be for Pompey, who were well in control of the fixture.

The lively Harness then rode a tough challenge from Miles Welch-Hayes to charge down the left and his cross was stabbed straight at the keeper by Curtis.

On 62 minutes, Harness crossed from the right and Evans couldn’t get enough meaningful contact on a free header presented to him in front of goal.

It was a glorious opportunity for the midfielder to extend the Blues’ lead further, but he failed to capitalise.

In a rare Colchester attack, Luke Gamblin drove a right-footed shot from outside the box comfortably past the far post.

The visitors made a double substitution on 66 minutes, with former Pompey player Paris Cowan-Hall and Martel Taylor-Crossdale coming on for Kwame Poku and Jevani Brown.

It should have been 3-0 on 86 minutes when substitutes Harrison and Andy Cannon both had shots blocked before Evans blazed the follow up over the bar from seven-yards out.

Still, Pompey had their victory – and their remarkable EFL Trophy record continues.