The selfless man who's become a key figure in Portsmouth's bid to reach the Championship

He avoided the summer fanfare and slipped the grandiose billing on his arrival.

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 12:49 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 2:14 pm

But they say it’s always best to make a quiet entrance and produce your noise when it matters. And in his own unassuming manner, Ellis Harrison is currently making quite a racket.

If this season is to build to the crescendo we’re all eagerly anticipating, the evidence is the Pompey striker is going to be crucially contributing to raising the Fratton volume.

The decibels were raised at the University of Bolton Stadium on Saturday, as Harrison assumed the position of public enemy number one with the home crowd targeting him for incessant stick. His crime ostensibly appeared to be taking the whacks which came his way from the Wanderers back line to win the string free-kicks he certainly warranted. That he once again did in another of the hard-grafting displays we’ve now come to expect from the £450,000 arrival from Ipswich.

Sign up to our Portsmouth FC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

There was time for an ironic round of applause aimed in the home crowd’s direction as Harrison left the pitch in the second half, safe in the knowledge he’d once again been one of his side’s standout performers.

It’s only on the run the player’s now enjoying Pompey fans are beginning to witness his committed qualities on any kind of consistent basis. And they like what they see.

Kenny Jackett had not used the 25-year-old in back-to-back league games until the start of November, when he bagged two strikes in the 4-1 win over Southend - a victory which has marked the beginning of an unbroken run of 11 starts. In fact, Harrison had only begun two league games full stop before an apparent sea-change in his manager’s thinking at the opening of their upturn in fortunes.

The fact that didn’t arrive until three months into the season would’ve given the Welshman reason for frustration and even justifiable cause to be asking his manager what was going on. That really isn’t the way of someone who’s shown himself to be the epitome of a team player in his time at PO4, however.

Ellis Harrison, right, with Marcus Harness. (Photo by Daniel Chesterton/PinPep

Harrison has quickly established himself as one of the brightest and breeziest characters in Jackett’s squad, one who adds much to the Pompey dressing room. To understand just how, you only have to hear the former Bristol Rovers man speak about his attitude to not getting the minutes he would, of course, have been looking for.

‘When we played Bolton earlier in the season we won 1-0 and I didn’t play a minute,’ Harrison said when talking about the issue. ‘I celebrated that game like I’d scored the winner, though.’

‘You’ve got to support the lads and be part of that. In football there’s not time to be selfish.

‘I won’t sit in the changing room and mope if I don’t play. I’m going to celebrate like I should. I’ve always been like that.

‘I’ve never caused trouble. People would think what an idiot he is, he’s being selfish.

‘Players who are selfish may go on in the game, but they’ll hit a brick wall because they’re not team players.

‘Being together is everything. I’ve had two promotions with average sides but we worked like dogs. We worked and were horrible together then went out and celebrated together. We were a close-knit squad.

‘I want to win and I want promotions. I know being selfish will get you nowhere.

‘Working hard is the main thing for me. If I can chip in with goals then brilliant but this isn’t about me. This is bigger than me.’

For many players, those words would earn a pat on the back for delivering textbook football PR before they skulked off and fumed over the injustice of not featuring. The difference with Harrison, however, is he’s backed up that philosophy with actions this season.

His effervescent behaviour hasn’t been confined to his present run in the team. He portrayed the same positive and upbeat personna at the club’s Roko training base through his times of limited involvement.

From the moment he grabbed two goals against Birmingham on his first start in August, Pompey fans have liked what they’ve seen of the man from Newport.

Harrison ticks the boxes of what the Fratton faithful value in one of their players and the comparisons with one of their old striking heroes in Benjani have already been made, as he echoes the Zimbabwean’s appetite for honest toil when leading the line.

Perhaps more significant is the importance his physical presence has assumed within the framework of Jackett’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

Last summer, John Marquis was unsurprisingly favoured to lead the line, as he joined from Doncaster as one of the division’s most significant pieces of business.

The clamour from many was to see the pair utilised in a twin strike force through those dark early months of the season, but the only time they were named together as starters in league action before November was the bleak 1-0 loss at Wycombe. Harrison was dismissed and fans called for Jackett’s head.

That line-up wasn’t the two two-man front line fans continue to be so fond of, and they were initially left disappointed as Marquis took on a deeper role against Southend in what may proved to be a red-letter evening in Pompey’s season. Because after two goals and a man-of-the-match performance, it’s been an unbroken run of league starts with lift off for both Harrison and his team’s campaign.

There’s undoubtedly question marks over Marquis’ suitability for the number 10 role, with the eye test suggesting Andy Cannon looks a better fit for a position the forward isn’t exactly on familiar terms with. The statistics make their point, however, with the big-money summer signing now on a run of four goals in five. The majority of his playing time has been spent in the deeper role through that period.

The numbers which arguably shout louder, though, are the 23 points from a possible 33 harvested as Harrison puts it on League One defences and creates the gaps for his increasingly in-form team-mates to exploit.

Likewise, just three losses from the 18 games Pompey’s low-maintenance hitman has started this term suggest it’s no coincidence things are looking up as his refreshing approach pays off on all fronts.