The key talking points from Portsmouth's defeat to AFC Wimbledon as Ellis Harrison shines and Danny Cowley hands three players their debuts
There were a number of talking points succeeding Pompey’s opening 5-3 loss to AFC Wimbledon in the Papa John’s Trophy last night.
On a warm night at Plough Lane, spectators were treated to eight goals in a frantic and often hectic fixture.
The Blues conceded after just 62 seconds when Paul Kalambayi fired home from close range, before the Dons’ lead was doubled in the 43rd minute when Aaron Pressley tucked past emergency keeper Jake Eastwood from close range.
However, on the stroke of half-time, Ellis Harrison netted his first of the evening to halve the deficit.
And after levelling the scores early in the second half, the Pompey striker completed his hat-trick with 10 minutes remaining.
With the comeback looking complete, the hosts won themselves a penalty immediately after, which Pressely dispatched with no issues.
Either side of regulation time, Wimbledon retook the lead and added insult to injury with their fifth of the evening.
Following the defeat, there were a number of topics to discuss from the game.
Harrison hits hat-trick
Despite speculation surrounding his Fratton Park future throughout the entirety of the summer transfer window, Harrison opted to stay at Pompey and fight for his place in Danny Cowley’s side.
After a slow start at Plough Lane, he more than proved to his manager that he can be a useful asset this season.
More often than not, he played on the shoulders of the Dons backline and looked to receive cross-field balls and ‘flick-ons’ in-behind.
There were a few occasions in the first half where he would control the ball well, shift it on to his favoured foot before seeing a goalbound shot blocked or deflected.
When it appeared that it may not have been Harrison’s and Pompey’s night, while chasing a two-goal deficit, he showed his striker’s instinct.
In first-half injury-time, the 27-year-old intuitively struck the ball towards goal from the edge of the box which nestled, rather fortuitously, in the bottom corner.
Harrison then had the bit between his teeth and scored his and the Blues’ second of the evening five minutes after the restart by showcasing his fine reactions and anticipation skills to rise highest in the six yard-box to nod home.
He once again showed his killer instincts with 10 minutes remaining to volley past Zaki Oualah who parried the initial effort at goal back into a crowded penalty area.
Any questions over Harrison’s ability have now been answered as he’s reflected his qualities against League One opposition.
There is now a debate into whether or not Cowley will start him against MK Dons on Saturday.
Trio make their debuts
Mahlon Romeo, Louis Thompson, and Jake Eastwood all made their first appearances in Pompey colours at Plough Lane.
Romeo, the deadline day signing from Millwall, was one of Pompey’s standout players on the night and was singled out by Cowley for praise following the full-time whistle.
It’s clear to see how his versatility will be utilised this season as he operated in a right-wing-back position during transitions going forward while constantly offering an outlet down the flank.
The 25-year-old was rarely beaten in one-on-one duels either, thus reflecting his defensive qualities also.
Although it took a small amount of time for Thompson to grow into the game, he left a lasting impression on the pitch prior to leaving the field in the 70th minute.
The 26-year-old operated in the base of central midfield and was beginning to dictate play as the former Norwich City midfielder was often the architect of Pompey’s attacks.
Despite conceding five goals, Eastwood was hardly at fault for any of the Dons' strikes.
He made his presence felt throughout, and pulled off a number of professional saves.
After signing an emergency seven day loan with the club, it’s unlikely that the Sheffield United goalkeeper will play for the Blues again.
Lessons to be learned
After taking the lead with 10 minutes left to play at Plough Lane, and with Pompey in the ascendency, a collapse of the nature seen against the Dons was disheartening to say the least.
However, the young players in the squad must use the experience to their advantage.
Last night’s defeat will be a learning curve for the inexperienced players in the squad, as they will need to show they have the ability to manage a game on the field expertly to ensure this doesn’t become a recurring theme.
It’s fair to say players such as Haji Mnoga, Reeco Hackett-Fairchild, and Gassane Adhame didn’t stamp their authority on the game as much as they would have liked.
Although Cowley needs to find a way of getting the best out of them, when they cross the white line it’s equally down to them to repay the faith the Pompey manager has placed in them.