Awfs set to show steel beneath smile

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

Smile read the white board sat in the middle of the dressing room at Newport County.

It’s been the mantra preached by Andy Awford since he took charge as Pompey manager, the theme tune to the club’s charge to survival.

Players have lined up to praise the Blues boss and his approach to getting them operating with freedom over the campaign’s climax.

It’s been a feel-good finale to the season with the fun factor restored to life down at the end of Frogmore Road.

But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s all sweetness and light in the world of Awfs.

Last Friday saw the 41-year-old bare his teeth for the first time since he became boss.

Supporters got their first glimpse of Awford’s ruthless side as Pompey released their retained players’ list.

There have been glimpses of the steely core which has been ensconced within a happy-go-lucky exterior for the past couple of months.

Anyone within earshot of the home dressing room at half-time against Bristol Rovers would testify to that.

It was the same against Wycombe in his caretaker tenure at the end of last year, when sub-standard defending struck.

There were no stunning surprises about the players who were told their contracts weren’t being renewed.

Thery Racon, a player who has always had an element of favour among supporters, was among those on their way.

Home-grown Ashley Harris was another, with the Purbrook talent appreciated as one of the Fratton faithful’s own.

Jake Jervis has the ability to be among the top strikers in the division but has too often flattered to deceive.

Awford wasted little time in shifting them all on among the nine released players.

Cutting the head count is a clinical process but one which has to be done to balance the books. Awford did it in business-like fashion.

He eschewed the opportunity to say what a testing process moving those men on was, when given the chance.

‘I’ve been releasing Academy players for the last four years,’ Awford said in matter-of-fact mode.

‘Its a lot more difficult doing that.’

Don’t expect the cull to end there, either. There are plenty under contract who are unlikely to make it to the League Two curtain-raiser on August 9.

The Pompey boss will look to bring in up to seven players and you can expect a number of the current crop of 21 professionals to go.

That process is continuing apace at the moment as he assesses the areas of the pitch which need reinforcing, and the faces who fit. Awford will be vocal in ensuring he is given the conditions he feels are right to work in.

That is something the hierarchy at PO4 have already found out.

They have seen the signs of his no-nonsense approach and it’s the antithesis of the sunshine style 
which has got his dressing room going.

Awford is way more hands on than either of his predecessors from last season.

Some may call that obsessive or controlling, others thorough.

However you dress it up, nothing will take place without the former defender having an eye on it.

If something needs to be said, Awford won’t mind bashing a few noses out of joint on the way to saying it.

Playing the smiling game released the shackles when it was needed. It was the right solution executed perfectly.

That melded with an understanding of Pompey brought a unity which was very deliberately constructed.

But those who have been around Awford for long enough will tell you he’s not a man to be crossed.

And there may be a few people about to find that out.