Luton 1 Pompey 1

Nigel Atangana was a threat on his return to Pompey's starting line-up. Picture: Joe Pepler

Nigel Atangana was a threat on his return to Pompey's starting line-up. Picture: Joe Pepler

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Andy Awford sought out John Still for a post-match beer and a chat.

Eager for ‘a couple of bits of advice’ from his experienced counterpart, the Blues boss fully intended to take advantage of the prized opportunity.

Regardless, there are a growing number of Pompey fans eager for Awford’s dismissal after 36 matches and 277 days in the position.

Quite how long he retains his role continues to be a matter of much debate, only Iain McInnes and his board can truly answer that question.

In the meantime, Awford’s side produced a Kenilworth Road performance he craved, both in terms of the result and its manner as he remains defiant over his suitability for the job.

Pompey were expected to chalk up another defeat at a side which had won its eight previous encounters on home soil to climb to fourth in League Two.

Yet the 1,021 away supporters were instead served up a gutsy and dogged performance which has been missing for much of this deeply frustrating season.

How those players did their manager proud to dismiss any notion Awford had lost them. This was not a display from a side eager for his removal.

Inspired by the shock return of Johnny Ertl, the players dug in to scrap over the 93-minute duration, oozing passion and solid-steel in their physicality.

Inevitably they fell behind, Luke Rooney crashing the ball home at the far post in the 13th minute.

There was no surrender, however. This was a very different Pompey on duty yesterday afternoon.

When Ryan Taylor bundled home Jed Wallace’s deflected cross on 36 minutes they had their thoroughly-deserved equaliser and a fitting point.

How the watching McInnes and fellow board member Mark Trapani applauded at the final whistle, the Fratton kingmakers revelling in the ultimate team display.

For Awford, perhaps evidence he really is equipped to progress with this squad, although it will take more than one match to convince his gathering doubters among the Fratton faithful.

The pressure remains applied and, for a club with ambitions of the play-offs, the manager has an immense amount of work to carry out – if he is granted the time, of course.

Nonetheless, it was 1-1 and every reason to salute Awford and a much-changed side which on paper many would have had little expectation of such an outcome.

Awford made five changes to the side which put in such an awful performance in the Boxing Day defeat to AFC Wimbledon.

Some were enforced, with Dan Butler suspended, Danny Hollands ill and Jack Whatmough’s on-going fitness preventing him playing games in quick succession.

That prompted recalls for Joe Devera and Nicky Shorey, with Ertl making a first start since October 18 at Bury.

The other two changes were Andy Barcham in for the benched Lee Holmes and Nigel Atangana replacing Craig Westcarr in the role behind Ryan Taylor.

For Barcham it was the first time in a league starting line-up since the opening day of the season at Exeter.

Meanwhile, James Dunne was surprisingly named among the substitutes

The alterations reflected Awford’s desire to shuffle his side to uncover a winning system, particularly away from home.

Sure enough, the Blues responded with a positive and enthusiastic start to the game.

The visitors bossed plenty of the early possession, certainly not suggesting a side hampered by confidence following recent results.

On four minutes, Marcus Bean drove a shot from outside the penalty area over the bar, yet the intent was entirely positive.

At the other end, a tremendous flying block from Paul Robinson thwarted Andy Drury’s shot from distance.

Yet on 13 minutes the hosts took the lead through Rooney.

The cross came in from the right, flicked on by Shaun Whalley and left-winger Rooney was there all alone at the far post to steer home.

Pompey responded by Barcham getting free down the left before pulling the ball back, although Jed Wallace couldn’t manage to get a shot off on target under pressure from a defender.

The Blues then had an escape in the 22nd minute when Whalley caught Devera in possession on the edge of the area, prompting the defender to collapse on the ball.

Whalley did his best to hack at it, while the home fans appealed for obstruction, yet the referee didn’t agree, waving play on as Bean retrieved the situation to hack clear.

On 25 minutes, Bean’s full-blooded slide challenge on Jonathan Smith presented a free-kick to the Hatters from 35-yards out, but it came to nothing.

In the 31st minute, Wallace fed the ball inside for Atangana who turned and fired in a shot dealt with comfortably by Mark Tyler, prompting sarcastic cheers from the away fans.

Then when Barcham’s cross from the left was cleared, the ball fell to Ertl who controlled on his chest before firing in a dipping volley which the flying Tyler did brilliantly to tip over the bar.

On 36 minutes, though, Pompey were level through Taylor.

Wallace sent in a low cross from the right which took a deflection and Taylor bundled it over the line through a ruck of bodies.

The goal stunned the home support and moments later Wallace’s right-wing corner was met with a volley from Bean which harmlessly struck the roof of the home stand behind the goal.

Awford’s men were buoyant and Atangana wriggled free down the right to fizz in a low cross which Barcham drove wide of the target when a goal appeared to be the most obvious outcome.

There were no substitutions at the break and on 52 minutes Paul Jones had to produce a sharp save to keep out Cullen’s angled drive from the left.

Whalley was sniffing to follow up, but Jones sprang to leap on the ball and deny the Luton man the opportunity of a rebound in a dangerous position.

Luton were appearing the most likely to next score, although the visitors continued to scrap hard to retain their point.

On 72 minutes, Griffiths drilled in a low cross from the left and Michael Harriman’s first-time shot was straight at Jones who took it low down.

Dunne, Westcarr and Holmes were introduced in the final 14 minutes as Pompey retained their grasp on a point.

And when the final whistle sounded how fully deserved the outcome was.

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