Bury 3 Pompey 0

Danny Rose scores Bury's third goal Picture: Joe Pepler
Danny Rose scores Bury's third goal Picture: Joe Pepler
Joe Hancott in action for Pompey Reserves against Southend. Picture: Colin Farmery

Harris hails Pompey Reserves’ performance

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The police intervened to stop the tyres on John Westwood’s distinctive minibus being let down by locals.

Such a shame then that the Pompey players didn’t step in to prevent their fans feeling deflated.

There has been a slow puncture about Andy Awford’s side ever since mid-August – on Saturday they popped spectacularly.

The Blues boss has repeatedly predicted one unfortunate opposition would soon be on the receiving end of a ‘tonking’.

Except, at Gigg Lane, it was the visitors who suffered such an ignominious fate – the 3-0 scoreline which befell them as comprehensive and one-sided as it suggests.

There can be no ignoring Awford’s men have largely failed to perform in league football for a substantial period of time now.

Certainly not reuniting with the standards established at the end of last season and the beginning of this, during an impressive start to management from the Pompey favourite.

The Blues headed to Bury undefeated in five league matches, yet fled with one win in their past nine league fixtures, such is fickleness of statistics.

Toss in the fact that only Hartlepool have scored fewer goals in League Two this season and there is plenty to alarm the Fratton faithful at present.

Armed with a playing budget estimated to be approaching twice the size of the one Guy Whittingham started off with as boss and, clearly, this is a squad expected to prominently feature around the top seven.

Currently, they find themselves limping around 14th spot, free from the threat of relegation, yet not portraying a team capable of a sustained play-off push.

Cue the customary hysterical social media calls for the head of a manager who has lost four of his 20 league matches in charge and seen off League One Peterborough and Yeovil in cup competitions.

Awford’s fledgling managerial career compares favourably with almost every one of his Fratton predecessors, yet demands are increasing among some for his dismissal.

Clearly Blues fans deserve better than presently served up.

In truth, not since the 2-0 home victory over Northampton have they been dominant over an opposition in the league.

Failure to score against Bury means it has been 460 minutes since they last bagged a league goal away from Fratton Park. In fact, they have netted just twice on their league travels all season.

The football has often – not always – in this bottomless rut been poor and uninspiring, painful to endure and lacking in imagination and creativity to contrast with Awford’s early days.

But sacking him at this early point would be nonsensical and another example of pandering to the screeching, instant-success culture which nowadays runs rampant in football.

Those 552 visiting supporters on Saturday witnessed an embarrassingly toothless performance which could well have banished the much-scrutinised 3-5-2 system for good from the manager’s plans.

They would, however, spend the match’s entirety noisily backing their team, good-naturedly ridiculing the home fans’ absence of voice, while throwing in the occasional ‘Let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal’ piece of humour to raise a smile.

At the final whistle they were greeted by applause from the respectful Shakers faithful, genuine acknowledgement of their outstanding support during a demoralising 3-0 defeat.

Not at any point were there any songs directed at Awford and his staff.

Unquestionably, there was little for them to enthuse about on the field of play as the Blues turned in their worst performance of the campaign to further demonstrate the gulf with the automatic promotion hopefuls.

Bury are targeting the top three and Saturday showed they are several levels ahead of Pompey to provide sobering thoughts.

The faltering 3-5-2 system spluttered and stammered its way to half-time, before being dismantled by Awford – and it remains to be seen whether it will return again.

Clearly, the Blues do not possess the right personnel at present to make it a success – in particular, wing-back areas with central defender Alex Wynter converted to the role and increasingly struggling.

By the time it had been ditched on Saturday, Bury had taken a 2-0 lead – and a thoroughly deserved one at that.

The deadlock was broken in the ninth minute when the visitors surrendered possession and, in the pressure which followed, Danny Mayor brilliantly curled in a right-foot shot from outside the penalty area.

Matters worsened on 44 minutes when a long free-kick to the left-hand side of the penalty area was steered back by the unmarked Nicky Adams and Ryan Lowe glanced a header past Paul Jones.

In between those moments, Michael Drennan had been a lively figure, cleverly creating space inside the box, before unfortunately slipping as he delivered a left-foot shot which trickled wide.

The on-loan Aston Villa striker also made something out of nothing when he lashed a loose ball narrowly over the bar as the visitors attempted to find a way back.

At the interval, though, Awford elected to go with a 4-4-2 diamond, bringing off Wynter and Nigel Atangana, with Ben Close sitting at the base and Ricky Holmes at the peak.

Within 30 seconds, Holmes fired a shot at keeper Rob Lainton, marking the first on-target effort from Pompey in the match.

It would also be their sole goal-bound shot during the entire duration of the match.

The contest was sealed on 61 minutes when Lowe found space in the right channel of the penalty area and his low cross was steered past Jones by Danny Rose.

Bury continued to push and Daniel Nardiello had several opportunities to add to the scoreline during a dangerous cameo from the bench.

Awford later praised his side’s attitude and refusal to give up with their endeavours, despite given the runaround by the Shakers to the very end.

He had a point, yet the absence of quality from a squad shorn of confidence and lacking attacking capabilities remains a massive concern.

Pompey’s players owe a big performance against Stevenage tomorrow. There have been too many let downs.