Andy Awford has told Pompey’s flair players: I want more from you.
The Blues caretaker boss saw his side turn in an impressive defensive display in the 0-0 draw at Hartlepool on Saturday and is determined they pick up where they left off tomorrow night at home to Wycombe.
But Awford pointed to an important change in mentality from players who are normally tasked with creating and scoring goals and is keen to see the high work-rate continue from the likes of Ricky Holmes, Andy Barcham and Jed Wallace.
Awford explained: ‘It’s not about who attacks and who defends.
‘Some players might be better suited to going forward but they need to help their team-mates out.
‘So it might be the wide player who has to do a job on the full-back.
‘I’m not just talking about defending our areas, I’m talking about defending the halfway line, winning the second ball and all those ugly bits that we need to do.
‘All good teams have a strong backbone.
‘I’m talking about good teams throughout the world. Even a team like Barcelona work so hard to win the ball back.
‘Before the Hartlepool game, I saw that as lacking in us.
‘I never saw players like Ryan Giggs, David Beckham or Steven Gerrard not wanting to run back.
‘Even if you look at a real attacking winger – someone like Theo Walcott – he does his bit and he runs back to help out.
‘I’m sure their managers expect them to do that, too.
‘But I thought our players did that really well at Hartlepool.
‘They took it on board and they all put in a real shift. I was really pleased with them.
‘But they have set the standard and that needs to continue now.’
It will be an interesting tactical conundrum for Awford as he sets the side up to play at Fratton Park.
While keeping a clean sheet and securing a 0-0 draw at Hartlepool worked away from home, it will be harder to produce a similar style of performance at Fratton Park when the onus will be on going out to win the game.
Awford said: ‘This team has got to learn how to play at Fratton Park.
‘It’s a hard place to play and it’s even harder if you are the away team.
‘It’s certainly not a criticism and I don’t want that to change. But when it’s rocking at Fratton and the expectation is there, we can become a bit too gung-ho.
‘I think we have to learn how to use the fantastic support in our favour a bit more.’
And while Pompey are expected to be a bit more adventurous on their own turf, Awford has told his players to expect more of the same in training as he makes the Blues a meaner outfit.
He said: ‘In my opinion, we will only climb the league by keeping clean sheets.
‘That’s not defensive-minded but it is being prepared.
‘I’ve said people will get bored of me saying it. I have harped on and on about it and that won’t change I’m afraid.
‘So if the players think they will come into training, have a gentle five-a-side and a sauna, they have got another thing coming.
‘They will keep on working at it.’