Why Haji Mnoga featured for Portsmouth reserves rather than against Sunderland - and at left-back
Mark Kelly explained why Haji Mnoga featured in a left-back role for Pompey reserves in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat of Luton Town under-21s.
The highly-rated defender was a surprise inclusion at Gosport Borough's Privett Park.
Mnoga missed Kenny Jackett's side's abject 4-1 loss to Northampton on Saturday with a groin injury.
And despite making a swift recovery, his inclusion for the reserves meant he was omitted from the Blues’ side to face Sunderland in League One later in the evening.
Having operated as a right-sided full-back this season, Mnoga started on the opposite side of defence against Luton.
Still, the England youth international delivered an impressive performance. He headed home the breakthrough in the first half before setting up Ben Close's goal after the break.
Having made a key error in the Blues' loss to Doncaster a week prior, Kelly was pleased to see Mnoga react as he did.
Player development manager Kelly said: ‘Haji just needed to get back on the pitch and go and run again.
‘They were good minutes for him. He was playing with the lads who he's grown up with so it was nice for him to get some minutes.
‘The thinking behind him playing left-back was that he needed a game and Harry has not played for a while.
‘It was just balancing things off, to be honest. You go down one side or the other, you cut inside or you don't. It was all worked around minutes and getting him back in the flow.’
The Luton fixture represented the first reserve game of the season.
Pompey have struggled during the coronavirus pandemic as they've been cautious of mixing first-team and academy bubbles while Covid-19 cases were high.
As a consequence, the likes of Close, Mnoga and Paul Downing – along with third-year scholars Kavanagh and Alfie Stanley – have lacked regular minutes.
Kelly added: ‘It was a fair result. We had some good control at times and used the ball well.
‘Maybe there were one or two moments when we could have attacked the ball better but there were good minutes for players and we had good control.
‘It looked like 22 lads enjoying a game of football, which is really good because they needed it.
‘Some of the younger lads who're second-year scholars like Seok Jae-Lee and Charlie Bell had some good control so I'm pleased overall.’