Awford’s psychological approach which suits Pompey

Andy Awford in his tracksuit for the visit of Stevenage on Tuesday night Picture: Joe Pepler
Andy Awford in his tracksuit for the visit of Stevenage on Tuesday night Picture: Joe Pepler

Underneath the sombre skies and the Fratton Park illuminations stood a figure.

A familiar character occupying his habitual technical area – on this occasion positioned in front of the South Stand.

Except, Andy Awford was different.

Gone were constant companions of a charcoal gray suit and black puffa jacket, so precious on such chilly evenings.

Instead, Pompey’s boss was resplendent in a tracksuit, clothing straight from the training ground.

The change would have been largely insignificant to most supporters present, yet for Awford it represented a canny psychological tool.

The Blues headed into Tuesday’s visit of Stevenage dragging behind them a run of six matches without victory and some indifferent form.

The manager had already ditched the wing-back system which had come under intense scrutiny from supporters increasingly disillusioned with its employment.

Hand-in-hand with the re-introduction of the 4-4-2 formation came six changes to the side who suffered a 3-0 loss at Bury.

And there was the tracksuit.

A novel move by a boss eager to eke out any mental edge in the battle for results, no matter how frivolous it may appear.

Also, a fascinating insight into the mind of a young manager striving to motivate his side, regardless of conventionality.

He said: ‘When I came in after Guy Whittingham left last season I had a tracksuit on as caretaker manager because I knew I was only going to be in charge for three games and didn’t really change too much.

‘I was still ‘Awfs’ for those three games, but when I took over at the end of last season from Richie Barker things had to change so I stuck a suit on.

‘I am not a suit person – you have to see my clobber – I couldn’t wear a collar and tie at work every day, it would drive me up the wall.

‘But I did it to show the players that, psychologically, I was the gaffer, I had to lead it, I had to do what I had to do and they needed a visual to see it. It worked so I stuck with it.

‘I just felt Tuesday we needed something different, so played differently and also felt it would be beneficial for them to see me in a tracksuit.

‘I didn’t get changed until 7.20pm, so when they came back in from the warm up I was stood in the dressing room suited up ready to go to work.

‘I just wanted them to see me differently so they knew it was going to be different. I didn’t want us to be in the same lull, I wanted a spark.

‘My missus hates it when I talk about her in the press but she is very good with me, she obviously knows me inside out.

‘She doesn’t come to football with me, she doesn’t like it, but she has seen a couple of games recently and said I have been a little bit different stood there.

‘So I had a look at me, I had me videoed during the last few games and she is right – so I have gone back to being me.

‘I have probably been more dignified, not as raw, not as animated, not as confident, not as upbeat.

‘She told me if I put my hands in my pockets again she would chop them off, she is into body language!

‘She is right, how I portray myself is how our team sees me.

‘Good teams reflect what your manager is and I think last Tuesday night we saw an Andy Awford team, which we have seen plenty of times this season.

‘And with that tracksuit on I was probably more animated than I have been for a long time.’

What followed was a 3-2 success for Pompey and a morale-boosting second win in 10 matches in all competitions.

Following last weekend’s comprehensive defeat at Gigg Lane, social media murmurings of discontent were multiplying.

Often sterile, uninspiring football was being produced under the 3-5-2 system and with it an alarming absence of goals.

In turn, Pompey had begun to slide down the league following an encouraging start to the League Two campaign, sinking to 14th spot after that defeat to Bury.

There was a noticeable pressure to get a result against Graham Westley’s side in midweek, represented by a pre-match rallying call by Awford during his Monday press conference.

Upbeat and bullish, it was reminiscent of him at his galvanizing best at the end of last season when he led the Blues to safety away from potential Football League relegation.

Similarly, the pre-match declaration that wing-backs would be scrapped may have been seen as helpful to an opposition garnering information to plot Pompey’s downfall.

Yet it also delivered a positive message to the Fratton faithful the much-maligned system had been packed away and to expect a different approach against the Boro.

As ever with the shrewd Awford, nothing in his approach to management occurs by accident, little is left to chance.

And he will retain the tracksuit for today’s visit to a Shrewsbury side yet to lose at home this season.

He added: ‘I will wear it again today. It is not about superstition, though, I will do what I think is right.

‘I am a superstitious person, I don’t mind admitting that, most footballers are. When I played it was put your left shinpad on first before your right.

‘I also used to take them off and put them back on on the pitch when going out for a warm up, while I would never get out the car until the song had finished.

‘It’s stupid isn’t it, it makes no difference, but the tracksuit wasn’t trying to change our luck, it was psychological, deeper than that.

‘It might be rubbish but if it has played out in one player’s head by one per cent then it has improved them one per cent and, in my book, has worked.

‘That is why I did it.’