TOM CRADDOCK will miss the start of the season as his injury battles continue.
But Andy Awford has backed the striker to be like a ‘new signing’ for him when he returns to fitness.
Craddock has had a nightmare time since joining Pompey from Oxford last summer.
The 27-year-old has made just five starts with seven further appearances coming off the bench.
Craddock has not featured since the 2-1 defeat by Southend at Fratton Park in November.
A knee injury has kept him out with the former Middlesbrough trainee undergoing an operation.
Awford has taken steps to talk to the player since taking the Pompey manager’s job.
He is aware of the significance of that and believes it’s crucial to ensure Craddock feels part of the set-up.
Awford is doing everything to make sure that is the case as the hitman inches his way back to fitness.
He said: ‘I’ve had a chat with Tom.
‘I think that is really important.
‘I had lengthy spells out on the sidelines myself.
‘It’s easy in those circumstances to become isolated. One of the things I’m keen on is to keep everyone involved as much as possible.
‘I don’t want the injured players sat somewhere else when we are doing things. I want to keep the group together as much as I can.
‘I realise that can sometimes be difficult and they can’t train.
‘But from a social point of view I think it’s important to keep the group strong.
‘That includes the injured players whether they are out for a week or two, or, in Tom’s case, a bit longer.
‘We have to wait and see and be patient with that one, and see how it goes.’
Awford has his own experiences on the sidelines which allow him to understand what Craddock is going through at present.
He had a string of problems in his playing days, most notably breaking his leg twice.
The Pompey boss feels he can empathise with his player, but knows his return will offer a boost to his options.
Awford said: ‘Terry Fenwick planned without me for a large part of the season when I was playing.
‘Then the season after that I became available and I remember him saying I was like a new signing. Tom will be the same if we can get him back out on the football pitch.
‘I was out for three months with a neck, 10 months with a broken leg, six months with another broken leg, eight weeks with a knee and eight weeks with an ankle.
‘That 10 month period was the one, though.
‘You feel isolated, especially in the summer when you are in working and everyone is off.
‘It can be lonely, so me, as the manager has to make time for those players.
‘They are our players and we have to look after them and make them feel part of the group. It’s important.’