Newport 1 Pompey 2

Ryan Taylor scores from the penalty spot to give Pompey the lead during the first half against Newport County at Rodney Parade Picture: Joe Pepler
Ryan Taylor scores from the penalty spot to give Pompey the lead during the first half against Newport County at Rodney Parade Picture: Joe Pepler

If Andy Awford is wearing a suit, you know he means business.

A few good-natured jibes about which discount outfitters had kitted him out may have been thrown in his direction from old team-mate, Alan Knight, as he made his way on to the Rodney Parade pitch.

But it was a subtle, yet significant, difference in demeanour for the man who has been charged with answering the most serious SOS that has ever been sent for a Pompey team.

There have been some bleak times in recent years – don’t we all know it.

The very existence of the club was called into question.

But having seen off that threat almost a year ago, this season was supposed to be one of rebuilding and laying foundations for the future.

We all thought it was a brave new world and we didn’t envisage a battle to stay in the Football League.

When Guy Whittingham was ditched and Richie Barker appointed at the tail end of last year– amid so much justification from the board, it must be remembered – some still clung on to an outside push for the play-offs, if he hit the ground running.

The kindest thing to say is that did not happen. Barker got it wrong. The board got it wrong.

But at least those who mucked it up had the guts to admit they made a mistake and rectified it – despite that painstaking interview process they told us all about to get the right man.

So less than a year into their tenure as club custodians, we’re two failed managers down. And if we are not quite at full panic stations, we’re not far off.

Awford is normally all about putting down plans for the future.

Presumably, he also had his best suit pressed well in advance.

But he has stated himself, the future must wait.

It’s all about the here and now.

It’s a seven-game season to preserve Pompey’s Football League status.

And the upshot? Not bad for starters, Awfs – six more like that and we won’t need a new painstaking interview process to get the next right manager.

But in this gutsy victory against Newport, that was made far harder than it needed to be during the closing stages, there was a totally different feel about Pompey.

The cloud of negativity has dispersed. Let’s hope it stays away.

It wasn’t flawless – far from it.

A few brittle nerves were still there to see, especially when County pressed late on – despite their two-man numerical disadvantage, having had both Adam Chapman and Darcy Blake sent off for some despicable acts of football thuggery.

But there was a togetherness.

And there was the most welcome return of another old friend we’d all thought we’d seen the last of – some good old attacking intent.

It had been so badly lacking during the final weeks of Barker’s reign that many of us wondered if Pompey would ever score a goal again.

Amazingly, we saw two. And the header from Jed Wallace was a cracker.

In 20 games under Barker, Pompey scored more than one goal in a match a grand total of once – in a 2-2 draw at Morecambe back in January.

Awford did it at the first attempt.

A solid defence is all well and good, but where was the excitement and that bit of play to get you off your seat?

Under Barker, our collective backsides were almost embedded in the plastic.

Opting to employ a 4-2-3-1 formation, Awford recalled forgotten man Johnny Ertl, gave him back his old captain’s armband and let Ricky Holmes and Wallace operate in the wide areas, while Wes Fogden supported a lone frontman Ryan Taylor.

Danny Hollands – impressive on his debut – worked well alongside Ertl.

The set-up looked good, and even on a terrible pitch, Pompey started confidently and looked a threat – especially with Holmes at his creative and hard-working best.

A double bonus arrived before the half-hour mark as Pompey took the lead and Newport were reduced to 10 men.

Taylor’s work-rate and honesty earned him the chance to slot away a penalty – his fourth goal for Pompey – as he chased a lost cause, nicking possession from the Newport defender and then attempting to stay on his feet as he was pulled back from behind.

But the key moment came five minutes later when Chapman was shown a straight red card for a staggeringly bad tackle that looked like an Olympic long jumper launching himself – except the sand pit was Holland’s ankle, which somehow didn’t snap.

In the ensuing flashpoint, Taylor was booked for a shove and was then lucky later on that Awford was wise enough to substitute him when the referee looked set to even things up again.

It wasn’t the only sighting of flared tempers, either, as some ludicrous macho posturing from around 20-30 grown men in the Pompey end and a similar number in the nearby Newport section threatened to spill over.

Pompey grabbed a second goal before the break to turn all of those Mr Angrys into Mr Happys.

It was a beauty as well, as Hollands sprayed a pass out to Holmes. He then found his delivery mojo from the left to pick out Wallace’s darting run to plant a perfect header into the top corner.

It was a proper, quality team goal.

There was still time in the first half for what should have been a second straight red card for Blake after another awful tackle on the unfortunate Hollands, whose legs must be like Robocop’s, only for the referee to show yellow.

Blake did eventually see red after the break when he brought substitute Patrick Agyemang down. He should have gone long before that.

Although it looked to be Pompey’s day by half-time, they certainly didn’t make it easy for themselves after that.

They failed to make the most of the extra space they had and sloppy errors meant they couldn’t take advantage of their counter-attacking opportunities as Newport launched an endless barrage of high balls.

The Welsh club’s best hope looked like it would come from a set-piece and, sure enough, Pompey were breached 16 minutes from time when Ismail Yakubu converted Robbie Willmott’s corner at the far post.

Cue nervous looks at the watch but in truth, despite the odd late scare and a great effort from now nine-man Newport, Trevor Carson was not seriously tested as Pompey seized a critical three points that will do wonders for optimism and confidence that they can steer away from danger.

The three-man cuddle between Awford, Paul Hardyman and Alan McLoughlin at the final whistle told its own tale, and when chairman Iain McInnes planted a smacker on the manager’s cheek during his post-match press duties, you got an idea of the importance of that win.