Reunited '“ yet returning Pompey a very different beast
The exclusion spanned four years, three months and 10 days. Now Pompey are welcome once more.
The previous encounter involved League One’s bottom club – the return hosted the League Two champions.
A lifetime away, a different existence, football’s cycle had turned excruciatingly slower than the Fratton faithful had anticipated. Nonetheless they were back.
Last weekend’s 2-0 victory over Rochdale was sublimely poetic in its construction.
A triumph for new manager Kenny Jackett, glorious beginnings for fresh owners Tornante and an opening-day win upon the League One reunion. Romance isn’t dead.
Pompey last turned out at the level on April 27, 2013, with a trip to the home of Shrewsbury Town.
Today, none of that 18-man squad remain at Fratton Park. Likewise, the backroom staff have also long since departed, save immovable objects Kev McCormack and Barry Harris.
As for one of those Blues scorers in that 3-2 defeat, Ashley Harris isn’t even playing football any more.
During their enforced absence, Pompey utilised four managers and employed 108 different players in the relentless pursuit of a rapid return. Thankfully, they were successful – eventually.
Last weekend, a crowd of 18,009 greeted the club back into League One against Rochdale, with skipper Brett Pitman netting twice on his Blues bow, thereby creating another piece of marvellous timing.
Pompey’s previous scorers at the level had been Harris and Patrick Agyemang, witnessed by 1,620 away fans at the Greenhous Stadium.
They seized the April 2013 fixture as an occasion to don fancy dress, among them Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Batman, Shaggy from Scooby Doo, Oompa-Loompas and Andy Pandy.
The season established club records in the form of 23 matches without victory and nine successive defeats. Incidentally, there were also 546 minutes without a goal.
Still, spirits were lofted skywards following the implementation of community ownership at the High Court earlier that month.
Meanwhile, in the build-up to Shrewsbury, caretaker boss Guy Whittingham had been installed on a permanent basis.
However, his side were 3-0 down within 56 minutes against their mid-table opponents, with Connor Goldson, Joe Jacobson and Akwasi Asante netting.
It prompted Whittingham to bring on Adam Webster for Gabor Gyepes and employ a wing-back system, with Yassin Moutaouakil and Dan Butler pushed wide on either flank.
Within 60 seconds, Jed Wallace drove in a shot which Chris Weale partially stopped and Harris followed up to squeeze home.
It represented the attacking midfielder’s first start in almost three months – and the last of his Pompey career.
He would make one more appearance the following season, before released in the summer of 2014 after 35 appearances and three goals.
Today he works for BSL Scaffolding and, in the aftermath of a serious knee injury which he battled back from, has hung up his boots for the time being.
His most recent outing arrived at the start of the 2016-17 campaign for Moneyfields, having spent pre-season with Dave Carter’s non-leaguers.
Now aged 23, Purbrook lad Harris remains local and his partner is expecting their second child together.
It was the powerful presence of Agyemang who would register Pompey’s final League One goal before Pitman struck.
Wallace again was the architect, delivering a low cross that was converted by the former QPR striker to spark hopes of a comeback. Sadly, it never materialised.
Agyemang remained at Fratton Park until March 2015, when he left by mutual consent after eight goals in 69 appearances – yet to this day still pulls on the Blues’ colours.
Aged 36, he represents ‘Touchline’ Tony Male’s Pompey Charity side, and scored twice in their most recent fixture – a 6-2 victory over Sidlesham Vets two weeks ago.
Agyemang now works as a Herbalife independent distributor, while hosts fit clubs in the Essex area.
That loss at Shrewsbury also saw Pompey see out the final 14 minutes with five products of the Academy system on the pitch – Harris, Wallace, Webster, Butler and Jack Maloney.
Last weekend, Wallace started Millwall’s 1-0 Championship defeat at Nottingham Forest following a summer move from Wolves.
Webster appeared as a substitute in Ipswich’s 1-0 victory at Birmingham, while left-back Butler is currently turning out for Newport County.
Maloney featured for Horndean last season and has for several years worked for Pompey in the Community, coaching youngsters.
Of the others in the Pompey side that day was Shaun Cooper, who last month lined up for Poole Town against a Pompey XI side in a friendly.
Keeper Simon Eastwood is presently on a run of 64 consecutive appearances for Oxford United and is their reigning player of the season, while unused substitute Liam Walker was last month signed by Notts County following a successful trial.
Another substitute at Shrewsbury, Nick Awford, went on to make five Pompey outings and until April was at Petersfield Town, where he made 13 appearances and collected a seven-game ban following two red cards in five days.
Right-back Moutaouakil was on Hayes & Yeading’s books last year, Johnny Ertl retired in 2015 and now lives back in Austria with his young family, while it is not clear where Therry Racon emerged next.
Still, in August 2017, Pompey experienced a winning return to League One.
Evaluating the talent on display, you suspect they’ll be many more.