When Pompey woke up to see Awford should be boss

Pompey caretaker boss Andy Awford Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey caretaker boss Andy Awford Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey’s world was viewed through very different eyes that fateful morning as slumber was emerged from – thankfully.

Certainly, it would have been anything but a sound night’s rest for Andy Awford and Richie Barker.

The alliance had been mooted by some in Pompey power in the belief that, together, they could conquer those ever-escalating relegation fears.

The truth is, at a little past midnight on Wednesday, March 26, Barker was lightly sketched in to remain as the Blues boss, with the Academy manager escalated to serve as his assistant.

It was an early solution brokered by chairman Iain McInnes, chief executive Mark Catlin and finance director Tony Brown following six hours of discussions with Barker at a Goodwood venue.

Crucially, it was a chance to involve the highly-regarded Awford in first-team matters, injecting the Pompey spirit into this limping squad.

Nothing set in stone, though, and, crucially, Barker’s future would still be the subject of strong debate among the seven board members first thing in the morning.

And, of course, the pair had to sleep on this tentative proposition.

So it was at a rain-sodden Fratton Park some eight hours later this uneasy united front had subsequently decided such a partnership was unrealistic and opted to politely go their separate ways.

They weren’t alone. It appears the dawning of a new day had also prompted those in the Blues’ hierarchy to have second, third and fourth thoughts.

The board had lost all faith in their manager anyway, rendering his continued involvement untenable.

The conclusion among all the main players was the double act wasn’t going to work, Barker remaining wasn’t going to work – time to let Awford go to work.

It was a brave decision to admit defeat and bid farewell to the managerial appointment who had failed after 20 matches in charge, even if the Fratton faithful were outside baying for his removal.

With decisive action required, the club’s board didn’t flinch and Barker’s mutually-agreed departure was granted.

It has so far proven to be inspired to install Awford as caretaker boss with the remit of galvanising the club in the fight against relegation from the Football League.

The 41-year-old has worked wonders with three successive victories, injecting belief and confidence into players repeatedly publicly written off by the previous man in charge.

Crucially, he has also matched stride-for-stride the progress of Northampton, dragging other clubs back towards the relegation zone’s gravitational pull in the process.

It doesn’t bear contemplating the club’s positional predicament if Barker had remained as a misfiring manager. Dark, dark thoughts which perhaps should not be visited.

Yet, victory today over a Rovers side with the worst away record out of all four divisions would surely be enough to seal Pompey’s safety.

Up to this point, Awford has already conjured up a stunning performance in a mere three weeks at the helm – both on and off the field of play.

To think, his managerial audition piece is not even half-way through at present and already many of the judges are on their feet leading a standing ovation.

Still, for those board members gathered in the club’s Beneficial Foundation offices on Anson Road from 9.30am that Thursday, there was only one suitable candidate to step in.

Steve Claridge had long craved a return to the Fratton hot seat he occupied so briefly more than a decade earlier, making no secret of his interest to many at the club.

However, his name would not even be considered by the club board while mulling over a temporary solution to the relegation issue.

It was Awford, it was always going to be Awford and, following two disappointing previous managerial appointments, this one has proven overwhelmingly correct in the current scenario.

Interestingly, a number of the Pompey Supporters’ Trust hierarchy had privately favoured the ex-Blues defender ahead of Guy Whittingham the previous season following the walk out of Michael Appleton.

It was administrator Trevor Birch who had complete responsibility at that time, though, and he elected the coach to step up to the role.

Swayed by the advantage of Whittingham’s first-team connections and a previous caretaker spell at the Blues alongside Stuart Gray, it appeared to be a natural fit.

The Pompey goalscoring legend would go on to establish himself as the longest-serving caretaker manager in the club’s history.

A magnificent end to the campaign, albeit one which produced relegation, saw him appointed permanently on April 24, 2013, without too many protests from Blues supporters.

By his side during that period was Awford, serving as a caretaker assistant and providing a highly-contrasting approach to the more laid-back Whittingham.

At the season’s end, the offer was there to be Whittingham’s permanent number two.

But Awford elected to return to the Academy, with the manager failing with Darren Moore, before turning to physio Steve Allen.

Certainly, what occurred next provides echoes of the negative impact endured when Brian Kidd left Paul Hart’s company in the summer of 2009.

Regardless, Whittingham was sacked on November 25, and Awford was asked to take control for what became a three-match period.

He had to fend off a challenge from David Connolly, though, who even offered to quit playing to take charge – but the club needed him on pitch then.

Awford would also go for the job permanently – by all accounts providing one of the best interviews among those final seven candidates.

Instead, Barker got the nod.

Now the player who made 361 appearances for Pompey is serving as manager for the remainder of the season – and isn’t he performing magnificently.

The re-invigorated Blues are playing attractive, entertaining and attacking football laden with goals, much to the delight of the long-suffering Fratton faithful.

On Wednesday night Awford addressed 350 supporters at the Trust – A Year On Event and enchanted the audience with his charm, drive and passion.

Awford is currently establishing himself as an irresistible aspirant to be manager on a permanent basis.

There is a buzz again, the city is smiling.

Pompey have woken up – as did those who decided Barker had to be replaced by Awford rather than assisted.