No dramas this time as Pompey return

Nigel Atangana and James Dunne during training. Picture: Sarah Standing (141940-3165)
Nigel Atangana and James Dunne during training. Picture: Sarah Standing (141940-3165)

The first day of pre-season at Pompey.

It’s an occasion which has lurched between comedy, farce and drama in years gone by. Hardly surprising around these parts, really.

Take 2010 when Steve Cotterill shook his head in disbelief as he took his players for the first time – and had eight men to call upon.

Two years later, Michael Appleton told his senior pros not to bother with linking up with the first team.

And then there was 12 months ago when a completely new squad of 24 players reported back under Guy Whittingham.

So what was the big story of the start to pre-season as the Andy Awford era begins in earnest?

Well, the story is there wasn’t one.

No shocks, no surprises, no strange faces, no triallists, no media scrum and certainly no big fanfare.

Just 26 footballers being put through their paces. Put through their paces in pretty brutal fashion, in fact.

This wasn’t any gentle re-introduction for Awford’s men.

This was 90 minutes of thorough work under the watchful eyes of the Pompey bootroom team.

The popular term for it these days is a ‘beasting’ but it’s a world away from what Awford and his coaches Paul Hardyman and Alan McLoughlin experienced in their playing days.

‘Send ’em to HMS Mercury and get ’em running up and down those hills!’ joked Awford to the onlooking Alan Knight, in a reference to Pompey pre-seasons of yesteryear.

There’s a bit more to it now, though, with Pompey’s sports science team overseeing affairs.

With work continuing at the club’s new training ground at Roko in Hilsea, it was still a case of players changing into their new training kit at Fratton Park and making the way to the University of Portsmouth’s Langstone Campus.

There they were put through an opening run under the gaze of strength and conditioning coach Louis Langdown.

It wasn’t long until the footballs came out, however, with some standard passing drills.

They made way for some more complex crossing and finishing work.

All with newly-promoted first-team man Hardyman smiling and cajoling.

While that was going on, new keepers Paul Jones and Michael Poke were linking up for the first time on an adjoining 4G pitch.

They were overseen by Hawks keeper Scott Bevan, who is helping Awford until a first-team goalkeeping coach is appointed.

Ricky Holmes was also facing stick for a new slick ponytail look, which suggested he’d been watching a few too many South American sides at the World Cup. The laughter soon stopped, though, as Langdown oversaw some high-intensity sprints which really pushed the players to their limit.

A few of the summer tans made way for red faces at that point but Jed Wallace and Wes Fogden’s head-to-head grabbed attention with the pair pushing each other hard.

Johnny Ertl was cruising, too, and David Connolly was staying focused on his work after returning from his loan stay at Oxford.

Then it was time for a warm down and end to an opening day which arrives a week earlier than it did 12 months ago.

‘There’s a social aspect with the new players coming in,’ said Awford.

‘But they are here to work – this isn’t a jolly up.’

Just wait until the double sessions start next week...