Pompey 3 Plymouth 3

Danny Hollands scores the first goal.Picture: Joe Pepler
Danny Hollands scores the first goal.Picture: Joe Pepler

If ever a goal encapsulated Pompey’s season it was Conor Hourihane’s second.

The stage was set, a crowd 18,026 no less, the sun also in attendance, as was the Blues’ newly-crowned manager.

Entering the 89th minute, the hosts had ninth place within their grasp, a 3-2 victory over Plymouth Argyle enough for what once appeared an improbable ending.

A thoroughly-deserved finale too, inspired by a Danny Hollands hat-trick during his final match of his loan spell from Charlton Athletic.

Fitting also that the brilliant supplier of the match-winning third goal of the midfielder’s treble was Ricky Holmes, the man crowned The News/Sports Mail’s player of the season before kick-off.

So much for that old wives’ nonsense about the manager-of-the-month accolade being the kiss of death, what a load of bunkum in the case of Andy Awford.

Then it happened.

Awful defending and Argyle’s captain smashed the ball home for the leveller to burst the Pompey balloon.

As ever this season it was a tale of high expectations, delicious anticipation and ultimately the moment falling flat.

Certainly reminiscent of the curtain-raiser against Oxford United some 275 days ago, conducted in a similar environment which heralded in another agonising campaign.

The outcome was a 3-3 scoreline, while instead of ninth spot Pompey had to settle for 13th, such is football’s fine line on these occasions.

It also ensured the club ended a season in its lowest-ever position on the ladder since entering league competition in 1920.

But let’s look on the bright side, Awford’s heroics two weeks earlier had kept the Blues in the Football League when at one stage they appeared destined to depart.

Then they grabbed a remarkable point at Bury with two goals in three stunning Gigg Lane minutes during one of those memorable matches conjured up now and again.

On Saturday it was another high-scoring draw achieved late on, only this time Pompey were on the receiving end and, as a consequence, relinquished four places in League Two.

Another harsh day – and there have been enough of them for those supporters who averaged 15,460 at Fratton Park during the 2013-14 campaign, more than the likes of Burnley, Birmingham and Blackburn.

Still they turn out, irrespective of the league position, opposition and, on occasions, the turgid football served up.

A wretched season of mistakes and unfulfilment brightened only late on by Awford’s breathtaking entrance and the subsequent seven matches which have proven both entertaining and productive in points terms.

He deserved to celebrate win number six on Saturday as well, certainly the Pilgrims didn’t warrant a last-gasp equaliser to ruin another day for the Fratton faithful.

But of course that isn’t Pompey’s style and, regardless, those players on their lap of appreciation were given a magnificent reception as the vast majority in the billed sell-out crowd remained to applaud.

Many of those footballers will now leave the club as Awford’s overhaul begins, while Thery Racon was not even present among his team-mates during the walk around the Fratton pitch.

The last one to exit the pitch was Jed Wallace, minus his boots which had been thrown to a young supporter sat in the South Stand so much earlier during the lap.

The overwhelming likelihood is that’s the last fans will see of him in a Pompey shirt with his contract expiring in the summer – and didn’t he savour the occasion before signing autographs on his journey back to the dressing room.

It remains to be seen if Trevor Carson – the recipient of four supporters’ player-of-the-season trophies before the match – will also remain, although his destiny is firmly in the club’s hands.

Certainly, those not injured who didn’t even make Awford’s match-day 18 will have massive concerns over their Pompey futures as the bulging squad is trimmed. Then there is the matter of Hollands, who netted the first hat-trick of his professional career in what could effectively be his Blues swansong – not that he wants it to be.

The Fontwell-based 28-year-old is eager to remain and talks will be held this week broaching the subject with fans hoping the outcome will be a permanent deal.

Considering the remarkable impact Richie Barker’s final recruit has had since arriving it is essential he is tied to the club, particularly in a central-midfield area which has been problematic this season. On Saturday he took his goal tally to five in seven matches, not counting the one Ryan Taylor claimed against Bristol Rovers following his initial shot.

Still, Taylor repaid Hollands’ assistance on that occasion with a sublime cross for Pompey’s first against the Pilgrims.

It was a magnificent delivery from the left which the midfielder met with a header from six-yards out for a 31st-minute lead.

The advantage was to last just four minutes, though, as Luke Young 
swung in a cross from the left and Reuben Reid swivelled to crash home an equaliser for his 21st goal of the season.

Just two minutes later, Wallace’s reverse pass released Holmes down the right and his low cross was finished by Hollands.

Plymouth struck back in the 41st minute when Hourihane stepped up to place a 25-yard free-kick past Carson after Ben Chorley had fouled the dangerous Reid.

It was all square at the break but, as has been characteristic of this Awford era, there are goals in this Pompey team and few anticipated a blank second period.

Hollands’ hat-trick came in the 47th minute. Holmes crossed from the left and another header capped a wonderful move from Pompey.

That appeared as though it would finally be enough to see off John Sheridan’s side, particularly with the hosts continuing to dominate proceedings.

With other results and league tables being consulted, it appeared Bristol Rovers were dropping out of the Football League while, closer to home, ninth spot was beckoning.

Then when a Plymouth corner was delivered from the left, substitute Michael Drennan failed to clear and Hourihane pounced to stun Fratton.

From highs to lows, the Pompey season in a perfectly-formed nutshell.