Hartlepool 0 Pompey 0

Sonny Bradley gets to grips with Hartlepool's Andy Monkhouse Picture: Joe Pepler
Sonny Bradley gets to grips with Hartlepool's Andy Monkhouse Picture: Joe Pepler

Wherever Guy Whittingham may be at this moment in time, he might just have afforded himself a wry smile.

Victoria Park was where it all began last season, the stage which started the unstoppable momentum which ultimately saw him crowned as Pompey boss.

It was back on a cold February night when his team arrived at Hartlepool battered and bloodied on the back of a club-record-equalling nine defeats in a row.

Then came a goalless draw, Sam Sodje’s colossal performance, and Johnny Ertl heading the ball while grounded in the penalty area – how they fought for their lives.

The Blues would lose just four of their final 15 matches in League One, albeit still ending in relegation, as the caretaker was made permanent.

Perhaps Whittingham had a week ago eyed the same fixture as providing a similar inspiring outcome. There’s undoubtedly plenty of superstition in sport.

Unfortunately, he never made it that far, sacked a week ago today.

Fitting, though, that Hartlepool would once again be the setting of a goalless draw, ending a period of five defeats in a row.

And heading that team would be Andy Awford – Whittingham’s assisted back on February 12.

The likelihood is the Academy manager will be relinquishing the role after Wednesday’s clash with Wycombe, the managerial situation edging closer to being resolved.

Now Chris Wilder has joined Richie Barker on the short list, with more names like Hermann Hreidarsson emerging ahead of the much-vaunted application deadline tomorrow.

Nonetheless, on the pitch, Saturday stopped the rot, just as it did more than nine months ago.

Granted, it wasn’t a classic, not enough to even generate a song out of the home faithful who became increasingly agitated as the match wore on.

Certainly not as desperate or frantic as on the occasion of Pompey’s last visit when a relentless final 20-minute bombardment was survived to see the Blues scramble home with a point.

Awford’s side were largely comfortable, well-drilled, committed and, had it not been for the post, may even have snatched victory.

In fairness, a draw was a correct outcome. Rare justice in football and a result which received no complaints from either club, who, for this latest encounter, find themselves in the bottom division.

Hartlepool had won their previous five home matches to surge ahead of Pompey – proof if needed of an impressive point for Awford.

And amid it all was a clean sheet – the unthinkable, the unexpected, the unlikely.

If there was one aspect which dictated Whittingham’s downfall it was that defence – a constant pain in the proverbial which undermined every ambition.

He used nine different players, three goalkeepers and three goalkeeping coaches in a bid to resolve the long-standing issue. Nothing worked.

On Saturday, after constant work by Awford on the training pitch, Pompey reaped their fourth shut out of the league season – and first since October 19.

At the heart of it was 22-year-old Sonny Bradley and 17-year-old Jack Whatmough, both operating in the centre of defence.

At left-back was 19-year-old Dan Potts, while a relative veteran at right-back was 26-year-old Joe Devera – the quartet making up a rather youthful back four asked to venture to a place like Hartlepool and not concede.

They did it, though, aided and abetted by Ertl and Shaun Cooper in front of course. The team secured a point, perhaps to the surprise of most.

It was Awford who granted Whatmough his debut against Southend earlier in the week, having been pushing for him to start – David Connolly had been making similar noises.

Whittingham’s last training session saw him revert to the Devera/Bradley axis, having lost patience with out-of-sorts Bondz N’Gala – then came his sacking.

Awford opted to instead employ Gosport youngster Whatmough, who has developed in the Academy under him, and now there is a different freshness about the defence.

On Saturday – two matches in – they got that clean sheet and with it perhaps the springboard which can enable them to be catapulted up that League Two table.

Small steps and all that but at least it’s a start. An encouraging sign with a new manager waiting in the wings post Wycombe, whoever that may be.

Interestingly at Hartlepool, Awford opted for a system switch, employing Wallace in the hole behind lone-striker Ryan Bird.

His previous first-team experience in such a position was fleeting, a second-half at Shrewsbury during the final game of last season, but he impressed nonetheless.

On Saturday, it allowed the teenager to become more involved in proceedings following an unusually quiet time of late while residing on the right wing.

And it would be Wallace who would provide the key moment of the match in the 15th minute – no other player on the pitch would come closer to scoring.

Swivelling just inside the area, he sent a left-foot shot which took a slight touch off the fingertips of Scott Flinders and smacked against the inside of the left-hand post.

The ball then proceeded to run along the goal line, with Bird agonisingly not getting there in time to force it over the line into the empty net.

There were other goal-scoring opportunities for both sides of course, with Trevor Carson, in particular, the busiest of the two keepers.

In the 89th minute, Matty Dolan crashed in a shot from distance which the Pompey stopper brilliantly turned over the crossbar. That was the closest the Pools came to scoring.

Other than that, there was plenty of hard graft, bags of effort and a hatful of honesty but little in genuine clear-cut chances.

The sight of Danny East being introduced for Andy Barcham in the 85th minute revealed Awford’s ambition with the final whistle so close.

He recognised how crucial a point was following the demoralising five-match losing sequence which had cost Whittingham his job.

Hartlepool’s not a bad place to visit – a tidy, compact ground in which 571 Pompey fans were presented with their own stand behind one of the goals.

A long trip from the south coast, oh yes, even longer having not seen your team score a goal.

Yet last season the same venue and scoreline sparked a change in fortune – perhaps it could happen again.