Portsmouth's 2019 Trophy hero Gareth Evans to miss out again at Wembley - but Bradford ace has no regrets
In their infinite wisdom, the television panel opted for Matt Clarke as their Wembley man of the match.
Yet for many of the Fratton faithful, a player who entered from the bench on 56 minutes was the true Checkatrade Trophy final hero.
Gareth Evans had a penchant for striding forward with responsibility in the Blues’ big games.
The midfielder netted a penalty in the Meadow Lane promotion party, while struck again from the spot in the Cheltenham title triumph.
There was also a free-kick against Bury in the 2019 Checkatrade Trophy semi-final success, achieved while wearing the captain’s armband.
Inevitably, it was Evans who inspired Pompey against Sunderland in the competition’s final following his introduction as a second-half substitute with his side trailling 1-0.
He crossed for Nathan Thompson’s headed leveller eight minutes from time, while successfully converted the Blues’ opening spot kick in the shoot-out.
Yet, tomorrow, Evans won’t be present for the Wembley return – although should have been.
The 32-year-old told The News: ‘When I came down to Pompey, it was to get success.
‘I would have to say, promotion was the main reason. Once I got that it was more about experiences, hopefully getting another promotion.
‘To have the Checkatrade Trophy as well was amazing, although cannot top that League One promotion.
‘What made the occasion a bit more special for me was the fact I played in virtually every round in the lead up to the final. I was even captain against Bury.
‘I was disappointed not to start the game, but once you’re in the ground, sat on the bench and taking in the flags and the atmosphere, you’re desperate to get onto the pitch to try to contribute.
‘We were poor in the first half, but I always felt if I got the chance I’d give my all and hopefully contribute towards turning the game around – and I felt I did that.
‘I was brought onto the left after Ronan came off. He had been struggling for fitness for a few weeks after damaging his finger.
‘He hadn't trained too much, which was why I was upset about not playing, as I’d played every round in the lead up to it. He hadn’t trained until the day before the final.
‘It wasn’t quite Ronan’s day, but once he was brought off I did whatever I could to make an impact on the game.
‘We were knocking on the door throughout the second half. There were a few opportunities, Brett hit the post and Jamal had one flash across the goal.
‘Then Matt Clarke broke forward with the ball, laid it off to me and I chipped it up. I didn’t really aim for anyone, I just tried to put it into an area hoping that someone would get on the end of it.
‘The least likely person you would have expected did – Thommo – and it was a good header. The rest is history.
‘When it came to the shoot-out, I was always going to take a penalty. I enjoy the pressure of taking penalties, always obviously had not done it in front of that many fans before or an occasion like that.
‘When Kenny asked, I think it was only me and Brett who put our hands up. There weren’t many keen on it, but the others eventually put their hands up.
‘Mind you, it was probably the worst penalty of the five, but luckily ended up going in, sneaking in below the keeper.’
Evans featured in five of Pompey’s fixtures in the march to last season’s Leasing.com Trophy final.
Certainly he would have anticipated being included in the squad for the Wembley encounter with Salford.
As it was, the 2019-20 league and cup season was curtailed, with only the play-off campaign retained.
Then, in September, Evans ended his Pompey association after five years, 215 appearances and 37 goals to join League Two Bradford.
The move brought regular first-team football – yet deprived the midfielder of successive Pompey appearances at Wembley.
He added: ‘Having played my fair share of games and my part in terms of them getting to Wembley, I suppose there is a tinge of disappointment that I won’t be involved in the final.
‘However, in some ways that might be a positive because I think it will be a fraction of the experience Sunderland was.
‘Maybe it was better to have done it once and done it properly. I’m not sure.
‘The atmosphere will obviously be non-existent for this final and it will be a shame. That was the stand-out thing for me from that game.
‘I had all of my family there, some of my mates. Just being able to properly celebrate with your own fans, that’s what it’s all about.
‘Parading the trophy around in front of supporters has been taken away, so I would imagine it will be a bit awkward. It’s such a shame.
‘To have no-one there for a Wembley final will be a bit of a weird experience.’
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
Tomorrow, Pompey will finally get their day at Wembley.
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