Portsmouth 3 Norwich under-21s 1: Neil Allen's verdict - Timely reminders from forgotten men and talented teenage quartet

Ellis Harrison celebrates his second goal with Josh Flint during Pompey's 3-1 victory over Norwich under-21s. Picture: Joe Pepler
Ellis Harrison celebrates his second goal with Josh Flint during Pompey's 3-1 victory over Norwich under-21s. Picture: Joe Pepler
Share this article
0
Have your say

A particularly fastidious steward refused to let Oli Hawkins into Fratton Park before kick-off.

Apparently the striker didn’t possess a club ID to conclusively prove his identity to enable entrance through the newly-created players’ gate beside the Fratton end.

In March, Hawkins netted the penalty which secured the Checkatrade Trophy – on Saturday he was barred from helping defend it.

How quickly some forget.

Nonetheless, the encounter with Norwich under-21s represented an occasion for delivering reminders, the former Dagenham & Redbridge man among them. Once admitted, of course.

Hawkins and Ryan Williams have been Pompey’s forgotten men, prolonged injury spells ushering them away from the first-team glare, albeit often glimpsed on the training ground.

Without a single minute of competitive involvement during the opening eight matches of the campaign, talk of featuring had been plentiful, yet frustratingly lacked action.

Elsewhere, two years had passed since Joe Hancott was crowned the youngest player in Blues post-war history, without a follow-up outing since.

Then there’s Ellis Harrison, once feted as Kenny Jackett’s first-choice striker, now overlooked in favour of John Marquis, while ignored during debates surrounding the necessity for Brett Pitman’s inclusion.

And then Anton Walkes, oft-maligned at right-back, yet his ability to serve as an effective holding midfielder has unquestionably slipped the mind.

Well, all jogged the memory during a Leasing.com Trophy fixture witnessed by 2,855 supporters.

Throw in the surprise impacts of two Academy graduates on their debuts, and powerful statements were proclaimed during the subsequent 3-1 victory.

The EFL Trophy undoubtedly has its flaws, yet Saturday represented a breath of fresh air amid a season in which a rapidly-descending gloom is beginning to choke.

Free from the pressures of a sizeable Fratton Park crowd and understandable demands to crank up the win ratio to join the League One pace setters, a youthful Pompey were invigorating to watch.

The attacking teenage triumvirate behind Harrison operated without fear, demonstrating pace, confidence and a glorious freedom, which at times was a joy to behold.

Waterlooville’s Josh Flint helped himself to a goal and an assist, Eoin Teggart was man of the match, while Leon Maloney claimed his maiden senior assist.

Inevitably there will be some calls for immediate league inclusion, the preaching to give kids a chance on a higher platform. It’s an age-old argument.

Yet let’s not ignore that all were in the Academy last season, the Irishman Teggart still is for that matter.

Considering the current mood smothering Fratton Park at present, this is no time to toss youngsters into an increasingly-fraught League One situation, particularly for a club with promotion ambition.

Experimentation and trusting in youth is all very well, but not now, not in September, not when the injury list is showing encouraging signs of diminishing.

Certainly the weekend returns of Hawkins and Williams are timely, as are another two goals for the likeable Harrison, to catapult himself into the position of current leading scorer.

Intriguingly, Hawkins was instructed to occupy a central-defensive role alongside Sean Raggett.

Not since February 2018 had Jackett named him as a starter at centre-half, preferring to retain him exclusively as a striker. Needs must, however, and, with Raggett still to convince, another alternative suddenly emerges.

Armed with such versatility and that attacking height option, Hawkins could soon prove to be useful bench option at the every least.

Against Norwich, he can be pleased with the return to his part-time job, putting on a more assured display than Raggett, who will be disappointed with his role in the visitors’ only goal.

As for Williams, he was granted 19 minutes from the bench to finally mark a long-awaited second debut for the Blues.

Following more than two months sidelined with a hip flexor injury sustained during the first week of his pre-season, suddenly Jackett possesses experienced options in wide areas.

With Marcus Harness missing for at least another two fixtures and Ronan Curtis’ concerning form, an alternative has emerged to bolster options.

Jackett has repeatedly publicly identified the trio as his primary wing options, while confessed he recruited too many in the roles last term.

Potentially all soon being fit offers Pompey's boss powerful options, particularly the onset of increased competition on the left flank.

Williams may yet prove a key acquisition now clear from injury – certainly the Fratton faithful are looking forward to seeing more from a pacy, energetic player capable of operating in all three attacking roles behind the striker.

The involvement of Hawkins, Harrison and four teenagers in Saturday’s starting XI can also offer a glimpse at Jackett’s selection plans for Tuesday’s visit of Burton.

The indications are Pitman could be handed a number 10 place for that encounter, explaining his lack of utilisation even from the bench against Norwich.

Meanwhile, Gareth Evans failed a pre-match fitness test after sustaining a dead leg on Thursday’s training comeback following concussion. The fact it was caused by Raggett, on his team at the time, sums up the midfielder’s luck at present.

Still, those on display against Norwich turned in an excellent performance, seizing control from the 10th minute.

Teggert crossed from the left, with Maloney directing a header back across goal from the far post, allowing Harrison to nod home from close range.

The second arrived on 44 minutes when Teggart burst down the left and his lofted cross to the far post was headed back by Harrison.

The ball wouldn’t quite fall for the lurking Flint the first time, but he persisted and swivelled to fire a left-footed shot high into the net.

It was 3-0 on the hour mark, Flint threading a left-footed pass down the middle and Harrison shifted the ball to his right before instantly producing a classy right-footed finish as he tumbled to the ground.

Norwich pulled one back through substitute Thomas Scully on 67 minutes, crashing an instinctive angled shot into the far top corner after Raggett hadn’t properly dealt with the danger.

A blot, but nothing terminal, as the Blues comfortably held out to ensure victory, with Walkes excellent in anchoring midfield in front of the back four.

Welcome positivity at Fratton Park on a glorious south-coast afternoon. Remember the names, recall the faces.