NIGEL ATANGANA’s return to fitness will come as a blow to Pompey’s League Two rivals.
That is the view of Blues boss Andy Awford, who has revealed the former Hawks midfielder’s transition to the professional ranks has been met with a mixture of envy and frustration from opposing dugouts.
The 25-year-old Frenchman was an integral part of Pompey’s impressive opening to the campaign – with Awford’s men enjoying a 100-per-cent record from the five games he started in all competitions.
A hamstring injury in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win at Yeovil earlier this month, though, coincided with successive league defeats at Burton and Southend as the Blues slipped out of the top 10 for the first time since the opening weekend.
But following a goalscoring return to action for the reserves in a 2-2 draw with Luton on Tuesday, Atangana is now in contention for a return as Pompey look to build on the momentum of a four-point Fratton Park haul today at Hartlepool (3pm).
The visitors travel to struggling Pools off the back of a home win and draw over Dagenham & Redbridge and Wycombe respectively.
And regardless of whether Atangana is handed an immediate recall or not, Awford has been impressed with the ease at which the summer arrival has made the step up from Conference South football.
The Blues boss said: ‘Nigel has had a great start to the season, probably better than anybody could have expected to be honest.
‘He came from the Hawks and, as we know, I watched him numerous times last season.
‘He has really impressed everybody.
‘Not just us but opposing managers come in and talk about him afterwards.
‘A couple who knew him have said: “Corr, we wish we’d have taken the punt”.
‘And a couple others who didn’t have said: “Where did you find him from?”
‘It’s good to have him back out there.’
Awford was also quick to pay tribute to the Blues’ medical department for their swift identification and treatment of Atangana’s injury.
Now the Pompey manager has to decide if he is to throw the midfielder straight into his side for this afternoon’s clash in the north east.
Awford added: ‘He has had a little twinge in his hamstring and I’m glad we caught it early enough that it didn’t go completely.
‘It’s only three weeks that he has been out so we caught it in time – that’s good news.
‘He played 45 minutes for the reserves on Tuesday and he is available for selection today.
‘I’ve just got that conundrum now whether or not to stick him straight back into the team or do you hold on to him and just nurture him back into it.
‘That is the decision we as a staff now have to make.’