Pompey’s weekends off from League One football have typically been provided by international duty call-ups. Factoring in their abysmal form overall, the chance to avoid third tier action at any given opportunity is a welcome one, and they received such a wish when the new FA Cup campaign reached its First Round Proper.
Staying in PO4 for their First Round tie, the Blues hosted 7th tier London outfit Harrow Borough, who at the time sat 82 places below Danny Cowley’s side in the football pyramid. Given the veritable chasm that separates these two sides, it was an opportunity for Pompey to get their juices flowing a little and make the net rustle at will. They didn’t. A solitary Marcus Harness goal was all the hosts could register as they snuck into Round Two.
Pompey made two changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Cheltenham; Shaun Williams replacing Louis Thompson in the middle, while Miguel Azeez came in ahead of Reeco Hackett. The visitors, looking to stifle and frustrate their professional hosts, deployed a narrow 4-1-4-1, Leo Donnellan sitting in front of the defence, and James Ewington the sole forward.
In truth, the Blues started brightly and should have been ahead after just two minutes, when the first of several Harness balls into the box fizzed right across the face of goal, but neither Marquis nor Azeez showed enough instinct nor awareness to tap into a relatively empty net.
Harrow’s forward forays were rare, but threatening. The first came via Donnellan carrying the ball out of his box to the tune of thirty yards, before pinging an exquisite ranging pass around Sean Raggett and into the path of Ewington. Ewington cut inside and his right-footed effort was eventually collected by Gavin Bazunu.
Mahlon Romeo was impressive for the Blues, and after a surging run down the right, his cross-goal effort was parried away by Strizovic in the Harrow net. Just before the half-hour mark, a similar run from Romeo this time saw him drill the ball across the box and into the path of an on-rushing, unmarked Harness who swept home.
The lead should have been doubled within the same minute, when Azeez won the ball from kick-off, drove forward, laid it off outside to Harness, whose daisy-cutter across the face of goal was missed entirely by Marquis.
Two Harrow chances would end the half, both belonging to Ewington. The first should have resulted in a Harrow free-kick when Bazunu somehow avoided being called for handball when he rushed out; but he would be the saviour a few moments later when a lax backpass from Raggett was intercepted, Ewington had all but gone round Bazunu barring from an outstretched leg that clawed the ball away, preventing a certain goal.
If Pompey were somewhat inefficient in the first half, they were straight up abysmal in the second half. Harness opened up brightly when his angled run into the box resulted in his low effort smacking the base of the far post. Chances were a rare commodity for the hosts in the second half, as they gradually became worse, and Harrow started to grow.
George Moore on the left flank was keen to make something happen himself, first shooting wide from the angle in space, and then firing a powerful 30-yard effort straight at Bazunu. The occasional Harrow free-kick was dealt with less than convincingly, and Pompey had neither the quality nor mindset to truly bury this tie. In the end, the referee’s whistle was their salvation.
What We Learned
The Less Football The Better
What the Harrow game demonstrated in worrying fashion is that Pompey seem ill-prepared for any competitive game of football at the moment. This victory was just their third in sixteen. They’ve lost both EFL Trophy games to date in horrifying fashion, while their league form has also left more questions than answers.
This was a chance for a near fully strength Pompey XI to get some instinctive juices flowing, and to improve what has been a misfiring attacking corps. Instead, a single goal was scored amid the backdrop of some glorious chances going by the wayside, and in the case of the second half, putting in a shambolic display that rarely threatened the part-timers’ goal.
The Right Is Right
The best performances of the day came from the right-sided duo of Harness and Romeo. They both displayed maturity and patience in their attacking play, making their runs forward just before the ball was played, allowing them to collect the ball at speed, forcing the Harrow left-back James Taylor into a highly difficult afternoon.
The same could not be said of Lee Brown and Ronan Curtis. Too often, the pair of them were stood just off the shoulder or right-back Samuel Adenola, cutting off their own space, and then needing to generate their own momentum when they did eventually receive the ball. In short, they couldn’t get of their own way.
John Was Wide Of The Marq
John Marquis “silenced his critics” with his celebration after his goal sealed victory against Bolton Wanderers. Fast forward another 180 minutes, the critics are in voice again.
Marquis was not alone in putting on a poor show against Harrow, but he was by far the main offender. The striker generated next to no pressure on the back line, was very much a passenger in the affair, and when it came down to the big moments, fluffed at two gaping tap-ins that any instinctive goalscorer would beg to be in the end of. Replaced with seven minutes to go, Marquis left the field with a performance as vacant as most of the seats in Fratton Park on the day.
Gavin Bazunu – 7 – Made a couple of crucial stops to prevent Harrow from embarrassing Pompey.
Mahlon Romeo – 8 – A constant threat throughout the day. One assist to his name, well-timed runs, he set the standard many failed to meet.
Sean Raggett – 5 – Struggled with Ewington’s pace, nearly gifted Harrow an equaliser.
Connor Ogilvie – 6 – A quiet performance. If his name isn’t mentioned much, it’s because he’s just getting on with it.
Lee Brown – 5 – A shadow of Romeo, both in execution and in awareness.
Williams – 5 – The occasional ranging pass, but Harrow on occasion moved through the middle far too easily.
Joe Morrell – 6 – Always impressive on the ball, but was part of a midfield that offered little resistance defensively.
Marcus Harness – 8 – Mirrored Romeo’s energy and awareness with a dominating display. If not for others, he ends up with more than just a goal on the day.
Miguel Azeez – 5 – Effort-laden, the occasional spark, but you expected to see more.
Ronan Curtis – 4 – Too lacklustre, made Adenola’s job too easy.
John Marquis – 2 – In every department it just wasn’t there. Two glorious opportunities passed up embodied one of his worst Pompey showings.
Gassan Ahadme (30 mins) – 5 – No impact upon the game.
Louis Thompson (17 mins) – 6 – Brought on to see the game out. Fairly efficient.
Reeco Hackett (7 mins) – N/A
Michael Jacobs (7 mins) – N/A
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Photo: Below 2020 Media