Harrow Borough put in spirited effort as they fall short to Portsmouth in FA Cup

Harrow Borough manager Steve Baker

Harrow Borough manager Steve Baker - Credit: Bruce Viveash

There were some tears, of pride, as Harrow’s players and supporters gathered together at the Milton Road end of Fratton Park at just before 5pm on Saturday, in a mutual show of pride in the club, its team and its fans, after an afternoon in which the 2021 FA Cup run came to an end.

Harrow went down to a team four layers above them in the football pyramid by the narrowest of margins, fully competitive right to the end of the game.

Steve Baker was able to field his first-choice side from recent weeks, and Kunle Otudeko had recovered from his South Park injury to claim a spot on the bench, where Ahmet Biler and Ben Tricker could be found too, as each makes his way back to fitness.

After the sides’ entry to Mike Oldfield’s ‘Portsmouth’, the game kicked off with both sides attacking the end where their fans were sat, with just shy of 500 having made the journey from South Harrow.

Immediately Pompey were on the attack, Morrell finding Harness on the right and his low cross just eluding the incoming Marquis and Azeez. Harness then chipped the ball to the far post where Curtis arrived to head over.

Borough’s first attack showed their threat as Leo Donnellan sent James Ewington away with a superb curling ball. He cut inside Raggett and hit a low right-foot shot that Bazunu dived to save.

Harrow’s constant problem in the first half was home attacks down the right flank, and the next one saw James Mansfield have to cut out a very dangerous cross.

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Imran Uche then intercepted Romeo’s pass intended for Harness, finding George Moore, who tried to send Ewington away again, but this time Raggett got there first to block.

When Pompey came forward again, James Taylor was on hand to shepherd a threatening pass and allow Josh Strizovic to collect.

Romeo was then sent away on the right, Strizovic diving to push away his cross and Shaun Preddie clearing up the danger.

Again Harrow tried to use Ewington’s pace on the break, but a combination of a very slick Fratton Park surface and a Mitre FA Cup ball that seemed bouncier than the norm took the ball just too far away from him, and Bazunu came out of his box to head away.

Uche then got back to tackle Morrell: the tall midfielder, and Donnellan, were at this stage over-employed in helping to shore up the rearguard to take much part in developing attacks.

However, when Donnellan won a header in centre-field, it sent Moore off to volley over from just outside the box.

Curtis had a good effort from 25 yards, narrowly over, before Portsmouth breached the dam in the 28th minute.

Harrow again left space on their left flank as Portsmouth attacked. Morrell found Romeo in acres of space, with neither Taylor nor Moore near him, and his cut-back found an unmarked Harness, who guided the ball home despite Strizovic getting a hand to the ball.

It had been 437 minutes since the young keeper had conceded.

Immediately there was a threat of Portsmouth doubling their lead, as Harness turned provider with a dangerous cross that fizzed across the goalmouth. Strizovic then dived to his left to push away Raggett’s header from a right-wing corner.

Harrow then had a stroke of misfortune, as Mansfield’s through-ball to Ewington saw Bazunu

come out to the right of his penalty area to dive to grab the ball. He slid along the surface, out of the area, and the TV pictures (a rarity for Harrow Borough!) later confirmed that he still had a hand on the ball as he left his area.

But neither referee Mr Tallis, nor his assistant who was on the nearby touchline, spotted this, so Harrow didn’t get a free-kick and there wasn’t any sanction for the Republic of Ireland international.

Mansfield blocked Curtis’s shot, and Raggett’s far post header from Harness’s corner went on to the roof of the net.

Ewington then intercepted Raggett’s back-pass and very briefly got the ball past Bazunu, but the keeper recovered to hack the ball away.

Harrow ended the half with Frank Keita’s near-post corner headed away by Marquis from Taylor’s jump: clearly Portsmouth had done their homework on what has, in recent games, been a significant Borough threat.

Portsmouth were close to doubling their lead as the second period began. Marquis held off Preddie to set up Harness, whose angled shot went across Strizovic and bounced away off the foot of the far post.

Marquis’s shot was then blocked by Preddie, the rebound falling to Romeo, whose effort was fumbled by Strizovic, who recovered to grab the ball.

Donnellan then made an important far-post header to clear Harness’s cross. At the other end, Uche let fly from 30 yards, but well off-target.

Harrow regrouped and Donnellan’s curling free-kick was just too far ahead of his inrushing forwards, and Preddie’s great tackle on Harness, which alas injured the Harrow skipper, set up a Moore break, the shot blocked.

Strizovic and Donnellan sent the lively Moore away on the left. He cut in and screwed a shot wide of the far post off his right foot.

Donnellan blocked Romeo’s drive, allowing Moore to break to the other end where he set up substitute Kunle Otudeko for a shot that was blocked.

Strizovic then beat away Harness’s shot at his near post, and a block from Uche, who’d moved back when Preddie had limped off, stopped a shot from Pompey substitute Jacobs.

Samuel Adenola’s fine challenge then won the ball in the Portsmouth half, allowing Moore to take an early shot that was held by Bazunu.

Dernell Wynter then collected a Ewington pass to hit a low cross that the home keeper dived to claim.

Bazunu then claimed a curling Donnellan free-kick at his near post. Harrow’s third substitute, a busy Lewis Cole, got back to stop a breaking Romeo, who then put a dangerous cross just wide.

As the game moved into stoppage-time, for all their possession, Portsmouth still led by just the one goal, and was to the credit of the men in red that the hosts saw out some of those five minutes by taking the ball to the corner flag.

So, some money has been made – so important given how the club has suffered through the pandemic – and a great team and club spirit has been built during this FA Cup run.

It’s now back to more mundane matters for the men from The Rogers Family Stadium, and they begin with Tuesday night’s trip to The Beveree for a Middlesex Senior Cup-tie.