Awford delight at passing toughest test yet

Andy Awford. Picture: Joe Pepler
Andy Awford. Picture: Joe Pepler

Peering into his crystal ball, Gigg Lane represented the toughest examination of Andy Awford’s managerial credentials.

But as he looked up at the directors’ box at the final whistle and mimed signing a contract, the beaming caretaker boss knew he had passed convincingly.

It was all smiles following a remarkable 4-4 draw with Bury, which at one stage saw Pompey trailing 3-0 and then 4-2.

Regardless, Awford has injected spirit and belief into this Blues squad and Wes Fogden levelled deep into time-added-on for an improbable point.

The opening 45 minutes was overwhelmingly the worst yet during the 41-year-old’s second temporary spell in charge, although matters did improve after the break.

Led by hat-trick hero Hallam Hope and tricky left-winger David Mayor, the Shakers ensured there were plenty of uncomfortable moments for the visitors.

Nonetheless, that is six matches unbeaten heading into the final match of the season against Plymouth this weekend.

And Awford always knew the encounter with David Flitcroft’s side would provide one of his sternest tests yet.

He said: ‘When I looked at the fixtures when they came out I always thought Bury was going to be one of the toughest because they’ve have done a fantastic job here – and so it proved.

‘It was a tough game – Bury are a fantastic side.

‘David Flitcroft has done a superb job because they were in a relegation fight around 15-20 games ago. Now he has got them into the top half of the league.

‘I look at our first-half performance and you could argue it was more a case of that they were good.

‘Fair play to them, they are a good side and they have good players.

‘Hallam Hope is lively and I watched him play two or three years ago for England under-18s when I went to watch Sam Magri play, who was an Academy player of ours at the time.

‘I liked Hope then and he was a threat on Saturday. He did cause us some problems and we knew it was coming.

‘If we play against him again we have to make sure we deal with him a bit better, of course.’

Pompey currently lie 11th in League Two, such has been the superb transformation under Awford.

With five wins and a draw, the final table won’t truly reflect the precarious situation the Blues found themselves in a mere month ago under Richie Barker.

Victory on Saturday would see them leapfrog over Plymouth into the top 10 to end an often sapping campaign on an unexpected high.

In addition, should Bury not win at Morecambe on the final day, victory would see Pompey clinch ninth spot for what would be their highest position all season.

Now that would be fine finale at what should once again be a packed Fratton Park.

Awford added: ‘My target when I first came here was to finish higher than two other teams.

‘We did that with a few games to spare so the next target was how many points can we get and how high up the league can we get?

‘The players have been challenged in that way and now, going into the last game of the season against Plymouth, the question is also can we manage to go unbeaten?’