Awfs: Players can handle occasion

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

ANDY AWFORD prepared his men for a sell-out survival showdown and promised: They’ll be ready.

The Pompey caretaker boss backed his players to handle the occasion, as they step out at a packed Fratton Park against Bristol Rovers this afternoon.

The Blues know they will have to wait to retain their place in the Football League.

Yesterday’s draw between Wycombe and Northampton means Pompey cannot guarantee their survival today. They dropped a place to 17th and are now four points from safety after yesterday’s results.

But a win will all but get Pompey over the line going into Monday’s trip to Northampton.

It’s set to be another cracking atmosphere at Fratton Park after the incessant backing of the home faithful against Hartlepool.

But the two previous biggest crowds of the season were left disappointed, as they saw an opening-day defeat to Oxford and a dour 0-0 draw with Cheltenham in March.

Awford believes Pompey’s players will respond in the right way this time, though.

He said: ‘All we can do is look forward to the occasion.

‘I’ve explained to the players what is needed out there. The Hartlepool match was arguably above the Oxford and Cheltenham games in term of atmosphere.

‘I asked for a wall of noise, and that was the atmosphere we got.

‘We got that then and we will get that again against Bristol Rovers. The players know what is coming and they will be ready.

‘The players played their part last week against Hartlepool – they were brilliant. But so were the fans.

‘It was phenomenal. When you get both together, it makes me tingle. It’s ferocious.’

Awford remembers the weight of expectation on the players going into the Oxford clash in August.

With Pompey beginning their first campaign as the UK’s biggest fan-owned club they slipped to a disappointing 4-1 defeat.

But Pompey are now on their best run since 2011, and Awford feels the circumstances are very different.

He said: ‘The players didn’t have three wins under their belts in those other games. The pressure was really, really on them then. The expectancy in the first game was huge. Even I was nervous going into that game. It was huge that day and such an occasion.

‘I don’t think we froze then. We had a man sent off when it was close.

‘We were right in the game until that point and then Guy (Whittingham) went for it.

‘We got caught on the counter chasing the game.

‘In the Cheltenham game there wasn’t much created.

‘But we got a point and the defence was being shored up at the time.

‘That certainly worked, so I wouldn’t say we froze there either. That point against Cheltenham might be something which helps us to stay up.’