Exeter 1 Pompey 1

Jack Whatmough rises above Exeter goalkeeper Christy Pym to win a header during the second half of Pompey's trip to St James Park on Saturday
Jack Whatmough rises above Exeter goalkeeper Christy Pym to win a header during the second half of Pompey's trip to St James Park on Saturday
Matty Kennedy. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey 1 Southend 0: They said what

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In a weekend of actions rather than words, Andy Awford’s men were deafening at that final whistle.

As ever, Pompey’s supporters had led the way, earlier marching on ahead to record a remarkable FanFunding result.

Late on Friday night the £250,000-Tifosy-organised barrier was smashed with a day to spare, following a staggering £45,000 pouring in over the final 48 hours.

Mission accomplished – the Academy will be getting their two pitches and the key at the Blues’ new Roko training ground.

Just as the Fratton faithful united to save their football club some 15 months previously, they answered Pompey’s call to arms again to fund the essential youth set-up facilities.

Only the envious and embittered could close their eyes and deny Blues supporters credit for such a magnificent achievement.

As fans, they are doers – not banner-waving dreamers.

Still, attention turned to Awford’s troops on Saturday for the League Two opener at Exeter.

Time for a playing squad at Fratton Park to fulfil their side of the bargain and display the same drive and determination in the name of the club.

Certainly during a thoroughly-entertaining second half, Pompey honoured such a pledge – coming from behind to finish with a 1-1 draw.

But it was the players’ actions at the end of the fixture which were most revealing.

This was not a group revelling in an away point from the first match of a campaign many are demanding to be a play-off adventure.

No joyous embrace, fist pumping or pantomime celebrations towards the 1,548 visiting followers during the customary post-match show of gratitude.

Clearly, there wasn’t overwhelming pride at the capture of a point.

And that in itself was a stark insight into the expectations and motivation within Awford’s own squad.

They trudged off exhausted, spent and burdened with the knowledge it could well have been a three-point return.

That would have been a just outcome their second-half display warranted as the Grecians clung on grimly for a point during some immense pressure.

From Pompey there was no cheery acceptance at their fate, the feelings of disappointment etched upon every face at that final whistle.

Not a sentence had to be uttered, the signs could comfortably be read.

Encouragingly, there appears to be greater ambitions in the hearts of the squad Awford has spent the summer assembling.

Admittedly, at half-time the Blues would have gleefully accepted a point as they headed in a goal down and clinging to the life raft.

The visitors were well below par during the opening 45 minutes, with Exeter having the better of the action as a consequence.

Awford would later pinpoint a slow tempo as the cause, his side failing to move the ball quick enough and maintain an approach he has operated since taking over the reins.

Unquestionably, as the half progressed, the Blues faltered and ultimately fans were relieved to have only Tom Nichols’ goal for a deficit.

That moment came in the 27th minute when Craig Woodman drove a low ball into the box which wasn’t cleared by the visitors and the Exeter striker capitalised.

Poor defending once more from Pompey – a concerning characteristic emanating from the tail-end of their pre-season and now entering the campaign.

Awford had elected to keep new loan recruit Paul Robinson on the bench for the St James Park visit, with Ben Chorley and Jack Whatmough preferred in the centre of defence.

In response, Whatmough produced a highly-polished display which had even the home fans nodding their heads in admiration for the 17-year-old.

A stylish showing from the Gosport youngster who, during one second-half moment, majestically brought the ball out of defence with a surge upfield.

Elsewhere, Ryan Taylor made a return from his groin injury and led the attack in the familiar 4-2-3-1 system employed by Awford.

Yet Ricky Holmes continues to be sidelined with his thigh problem, with Andy Barcham instead operating on the left-wing, while Adam Webster received the nod at right-back.

In truth, it was a line-up long anticipated – injuries permitting – with the pre-season programme generating plenty of hints towards the opening-day line-up.

As a result, it merely escalated the disappointment felt at the first-half performance in which those entrusted with the Blues shirt were overshadowed by the hosts.

A response was required after the break and Awford certainly got that from his players.

The visitors dominated from the restart, utilising full-backs Nicky Shorey and Webster on a more regular basis, while James Dunne sat deep to allow Danny Hollands greater licence to attack.

However, it was the introduction of Nigel Atangana in the 60th minute for the ineffective Craig Westcarr which provided the crucial impetus.

Marking his Football League debut, the midfielder had already tracked back to dispossess an Exeter player as he twisted and turned his way into the penalty box.

Moments later, he laid on a delightful pass into the path of Wallace down the right flank.

The youngster did the rest, cutting in to enter the penalty area, before driving a left-foot shot into the far corner.

The relief among Pompey players and staff was highly palpable and they then set out mauling the Grecians in search of the winner.

Miles Storey, another substitute, was causing plenty of problems with his pace and movement in wide areas and the hosts were wilting.

By the 86th minute, Exeter’s back three and wing-backs had become a back five, while they were joined by defender Danny Butterfield.

It was enthralling stuff from Awford’s side, whose insistence not to settle for a point must have been heartening to the visiting fans.

Yet in the dying seconds, when Wallace fired over the bar from the edge of the box, that was the final opportunity gone.

By that stage he had already cramped up and had to be taken off corners, but ploughed on regardless pushing for that victory.

Then referee Andy Woolmer brought an end to proceedings, prompting an excellent reaction from the Pompey fans.

More importantly, the response from the players was disappointment – just what we all want to witness.