Why Leicester City loan hero and ex-Sunderland man have uncertain Portsmouth future - and is now the time to cash in prized asset?

There were a number of talking points to arise following Pompey’s enthralling victory over Wigan.

By Sam Cox
Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 4:00 pm

As the dust settles on the brilliant comeback, attentions have turned to topics away from the pitch.

Sam Cox was joined by our deputy head of sport Jordan Cross, to discuss everything from the Latics victory to the futures of Marcus Harness, George Hirst, and Aiden O’Brien.

Q: What were your thoughts on Pompey’s victory over Wigan?

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A: ‘It was a great night and one of the best if not the best of the season. It was an excellent performance throughout and from start to finish. We were all scratching our heads as to how Pompey were 2-0 down at the break.

‘I thought their general play was very good in the first half, but an obvious criticism was they didn’t create enough in terms of tangible efforts.

‘It was then really put into context by Wigan whose two opportunities were clinically finished – especially the first from Lang, I thought that was a really good, clinical finish. It then looked like it was going away from Pompey, but they stuck at it.

Danny Cowley spoke about how they felt they could win it at half-time and how much this team has developed since difficult moments earlier in the season, with Ipswich being the example.

Aiden O'Brien and George Hirst scored against Wigan in the 3-2 victory. Picture: Jason Brown

‘They got the breakthrough and Fratton Park was rocking after two goals in two minutes before the grandstand finale.

‘There were some great moments in the videos from the club afterwards of Danny celebrating, so shout out to (videographer) Max Swatton for that. It truly summed up what was a feelgood end to the season.

‘Whether it gives the optimism going forward, we can talk about that and how the points return and points-per-game has been promotion form for 17 games now.

‘If they follow 10 wins, five draws and two defeats from the last 17 across a whole season, they will get automatic promotion.’

Q: Will Cowley now have an incentive to create more of the special nights like against Wigan next season.

A: ‘I think that would be the way Danny would frame it with the players that “this is a taste of what it could be”.

‘I spoke to Gavin Bazunu and Marcus Harness after the game and the latter really talked with sincerity about how there are few places better for atmosphere than Pompey, when it’s in that mode and really rocking.

‘It’s been a few years since we felt that consistently and the challenge will be to really get that going moving forward.

‘Hopefully, the fact the Eisners were there for that, and they saw what could be, may encourage them to push the boat out with a bit more investment along with everything else they’re doing at the club.’

Q: What does the future hold for Marcus Harness after a brilliant performance against Wigan also highlighted his inconsistencies.

A: ‘Harness has scored 12 goals this season, with 10 of them coming before Christmas. He was a force of nature against the Latics, as he had an extra intensity to really engage players.

‘He wanted to get at his opposite numbers and he stood Jack Whatmough up on at least occasion and the goal was a product of his determination to turn the ball over.

‘I didn’t see it as a foul unlike Wigan and Leam Richardson, as I thought he was just stronger and more determined to get the ball.

‘He then followed it with a good delivery, and that’s what a fully-firing Marcus Harness can do. He almost has that winger’s curse of being dogged by inconsistency.

‘Thinking back to the Morecambe performance last week, he wasn't at the races and that’s happened too often. But a fully-firing Harness like that is a problem for any opponent and defence at this level.

‘I would say he’s probably Pompey’s biggest asset right now. And that conjures the question of do they cash in?

‘They’ll take up the option on his contract and he’s been told he’s wanted, but they may want to sell him to push the budget up slightly.

‘The bottom line is he’s been here a few seasons where Pompey have come up short now.

‘That can be said about others going forward, but I think there would be a market for him if they chose to sell him.

‘That’s the consideration for Cowley now. I’m not saying they’ll make much on him, but I do think they’d make a profit on him if a bottom-end Championship club came in for him. I think that’s where he has aspirations of playing.

‘I think it’s a case of watch this space on whether Pompey cash in on their prized asset.’

Q: George Hirst and Aiden O’Brien both on the scoresheet last night, will they be at Pompey next season with their deals expiring this summer.

A: ‘You would hope O’Brien would be here next season. He seems very happy to be here as he’s appreciated and the darling of supporters. He really fits in with the identity of the football club.

‘Cowley was vocal in his worries about losing him after the game, but that’s what I mean when I say that’s a deliberate statement with a view to perhaps making it clear contracts need to be tied down for next season.

‘It is a legitimate concern when players do well, there is always a worry that people may come in and steal him away. I think that’s Danny saying “let's pull our finger out and start moving in for these players”.

‘I would hope that, given how well Aiden’s settled here, he would be here moving forward.

‘There is perhaps more of a concern with George Hirst. He’s scored 14 goals since November, it’s a fantastic return.

‘His stock has really risen and I don’t think it is particularly realistic at this stage for Pompey to sign him permanently, given he was a multi-million pound signing for Leicester City.

‘I think it’s one where they could potentially awaken suitors at a higher level or at a top-end League One club. Certainly if a Championship club came in for him with the right money, then Leicester would look to do business.

‘That’s the concern for Pompey, given it would most likely be a loan if he was to come back here next year.

‘These are the narratives we’ll be following as the summer of transfer talk arrives. There are lots of twists and turns in all these transfer narratives, I’m sure.’