The 26-minute Portsmouth hat-trick which raised an improbable bar - why Gassan Ahadme returns to Norwich a victim of early success

Danny Cowley had been determined to dowse wild expectation, yet Gassan Ahadme’s sizzling pre-season entrance ensured the delirium could never be quelled.

Thursday, 30th December 2021, 4:55 am

A 26-minute debut hat-trick preceded a stunning eight goal haul in four friendly games as the young triallist from Norwich instantly made his mark.

Inevitably, the Fratton faithful were swept away by the infectious quality of such impressive early performances, while Cowley himself was convinced sufficiently to arrange a season-long deal.

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Pre-season performances have long been notoriously misleading, particularly against regular July opposition in the form of Havant & Waterlooville.

Fine goal-scoring contributions against the Hawks is no accurate gauge to a player’s future Pompey career, especially against a National League South line-up.

Take Ryan Bird and Eugen Bopp, for instance, who both made eye-catching impacts at Westleigh Park, only to significantly fail to build upon such glorious introductions.

Similarly, Ben Sahar’s two-goal blast in a 4-0 success didn’t even earn him a first-team outing during a nondescript six-month loan spell from Chelsea.

Gassan Ahadme, who has netted once in 10 matches, will return to Norwich when the January transfer window opens. Picture: Graham Hunt/ProSportsImages

As ever, friendly displays against all non-league sides should be treated with a degree of caution – once Nicke Kabamba netted five at Newport, Isle of Wight, in July 2017.

In the case of Ahadme, admittedly this felt different. In reality, however, this was a 20-year-old who had never before played in the Football League.

Privately, Crowley was fully aware of the gamble, yet the enthusiastic Moroccan’s raw ability and admirable willingness to learn represented a tempting project to work on.

Nonetheless, expecting a rookie striker to replicate pre-season friendly form in League One for a club the size of Pompey and the accompanying demands was always going to be a tough task.

Gassan Ahadme (right) celebrates with Miguel Azeez after Azeez's opening goal in November's win over Crystal Palace Under-21s. Picture: Robin Jones/Digital South

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Particularly amid a striking pool desperately in need of experienced fresh faces last summer, rather than continuing to rely on John Marquis and Ellis Harrison.

As it turned out, the likeable Ahadme unfortunately fell short, despite starting the season in Cowley’s first-team.

Physically, the 21-year-old struggled on outings which grew more sporadic by the month, while both the player and the Blues’ head coach spoke of the need for ‘tactical’ improvements.

In terms of finishing, Ahadme looked effective, with either foot and his head, possessing a natural talent unimpeded by weaknesses in other aspects of his game.

His sole goal arrived against Crystal Palace Under-21s in the Papa John’s Trophy in November, netted with a header from Kieron Freeman’s right-sided cross.

Certainly there were barely any notable missed scoring opportunities during his 10 outings for the Blues.

Elsewhere on the pitch was the issue and, in truth, Ahadme largely failed to impress once the Football League season got underway.

Although the Norwich man did face Basingstoke in the Hampshire Senior Cup in September and, despite netting in the subsequent penalty shoot-out win, didn’t shine.

Indeed, having started four of Pompey’s opening seven matches in all competitions this term, Ahadme swiftly faded from the first-team scene.

Tellingly, since Papa John’s Trophy defeat at AFC Wimbledon, he would be handed four more appearances over the next three-and-a-half months,

It should come as no surprise that Ahadme’s loan from Norwich is to be cancelled at the halfway point – at the behest of who is irrelevant.

His impending departure will create a prized loan spot, allowing Cowley to recruit a player better equipped for a first-team challenge.

Ahadme’s 26-minute friendly hat-trick remains in Pompey folklore. Sadly, they proved standards he was unable to revisit.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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