Awfs proves smiles better as Pompey boss

Pompey boss Andy Awford Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey boss Andy Awford Picture: Joe Pepler

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A Pompey player once remarked he could never recall Richie Barker smiling.

Well, the grins have been fixed on the faces of all at Fratton Park since Andy Awford was elevated to replace him as boss on a caretaker basis.

Now the feel-good factor has been extended following the appointment of the highly-popular 41-year-old to the role on a permanent basis.

Not that there were ever any doubts over the identity of Pompey’s next manager – it had long been a foregone conclusion.

Initially, Awford was viewed by some as a sticking plaster, a quick-fix patchwork job to nudge the team over the survival line and avoid relegation.

Embroiled in a short-term crisis, a swift solution was required to both inspire the players and galvanise disillusioned supporters.

The Blues’ Academy manager was that unanimous choice by Pompey’s board and charged with keeping in the Football League this club who were languishing one place above the relegation zone.

He achieved it in four games – and three to spare.

A staggering accomplishment which would earn Awford widespread backing to be considered the answer long term.

Granted, it was a 2-1 victory at Newport County in the opening match of his second spell which lit the fuse, marking the team’s first win in seven.

Yet the injection of belief, motivation and smiles from Awford upon his entrance into the first team 48 hours earlier was the true driving force.

This wilting squad had become disillusioned and sapped of confidence during its plummet towards the League Two drop zone.

The previous manager and his director of football, Steve Coppell, had run out of ideas.

The pack had been shuffled so many times the cards had become frayed and out of shape.

Coupled with Northampton’s resurgence under new boss Chris Wilder and relegation was undoubtedly beckoning.

Then came Awford.

Operating with a 4-2-3-1 system, victory followed by victory arrived – and in each match the Blues employed a delicious attacking brand of football sadly lacking under Barker.

What’s more, in each game, Pompey thoroughly deserved their triumphs.

No grinding-out results to be seen.

Shortly before their fifth successive win coming at Northampton, the Blues had been declared safe from relegation – and the countdown began for Awford to be crowned.

Ever modest, he has tended to publicly marginalise his role in the remarkable events of the past month, focusing on praise for the players.

Yet the very source for their magnificent resurgence should never be overlooked when reflecting on the march to safety.

Assisted by long-time Academy colleague Paul Hardyman, the duo have motivated through passion, common sense and humour to rally their underachieving troops.

To a man the players have responded, with those on the periphery – such as Michael Drennan and Rhys McCabe – arriving from the cold to play their parts on occasions.

At Sixfields, Awford made eight changes to a winning side – and still they emerged as 1-0 victors with a gutsy display.

Perhaps, as many of us suspected, the quality of players were always there to be able to lift Pompey into the top 10 in League Two.

It’s just they never responded to the particular techniques employed by Barker.

They certainly have when it comes to Awford.

Of course, we have still to see the new manager tested in the field of player recruitment for the first team – an aspect Barker excelled ahead of Whittingham.

Such a judgement can be made over the coming year, however, as the new manager begins to rebuild a squad expected by fans to push for the play-offs at the very least.

In the meantime, may the smiles remain as Pompey head into the close season with new-found optimism and buoyant belief.

Thanks to Andy Awford.