Not-so-forgotten men fighting for futures

Tom Craddock, right. Picture: Joe Pepler
Tom Craddock, right. Picture: Joe Pepler
Stuart O'Keefe. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey midfielder will relish facing former club

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It was 20 years ago last week Andy Awford endured a moment which changed his career forever.

Gary Strodder’s reckless tackle left Awford with a leg broken in four places at West Brom.

Awford, in all fairness, was never quite the same afterwards, as one of the brightest young hopes in Pompey’s history eventually retired at the age of 28.

But the pitch black of that period of his life remains with the Blues boss.

And it’s those memories which will not let him forget those in the shadows at Fratton Park at present.

Danny East, Tom Craddock and Wes Fogden are all enveloped in the darkness of long-term injury concerns.

The trio’s fights are continuing on that front today after varying stints on the sidelines.

Craddock’s problems stretch back furthest. He has been missing since last November with a period out already under his belt by that stage.

East’s latest ankle issue surfaced in pre-season, while Fogden’s unfortunate knee injury occurred in July.

All three will have faced those nagging doubts which arrive with problems which have had violent impacts on their careers.

They undoubtedly have tackled the same internal wranglings – and asked the same questions of themselves.

Will I be able to come back? Can I trust the injury? Will I be the same player?

They are the depressing concerns footballers face when their livelihoods hang in the balance.

The good news is the route back is smoother today than it ever was in Awford’s day.

Knee injuries of the kind Craddock and Fogden have faced were more often than not career-ending back then. Not so now.

Awford has made every effort to include the players in the first-team picture.

He knows what it is to feel like an outsider looking in when you are powerless to help your team-mates on a matchday. What is your worth?

It’s what all three could offer when fit which ensures they are not-so-forgotten men, though.

Craddock has shown the kind of wily craftmanship in front of goal in his career Pompey could do with at the moment.

And East has displayed the combative skills which were on the way to making him a favourite with the Fratton faithful.

It’s Fogden whose absence has been missed most acutely, however.

Why? Simply because the little grafter made such a seismic impact over the second half of the campaign, following his arrival from Bournemouth in January. His influence really came to the fore in the five games which secured Pompey’s safety, after Awford’s arrival.

Fogden’s manager wanted to play a high-tempo pressing game and his energy and drive set the tone for that.

‘I think he sparked other people into life,’ Awford said.

‘He got the crowd going with his enthusiasm and energy levels. He has been a big miss for us, he really has.’

His absence has left a void where his drive once was.

It was that will which was undoubtedly key to the success of the 4-2-3-1 system which flourished over the finale.

The new-year talk over Fogden’s return has now drifted into mentions of February and March.

Craddock reports steady progress, while the outlook is more vague for East. There’s no ETA for either man at present, though.

That’s bad news for Awford, who knows he has very usable talent in the treatment room.

In the uncertain world of lower-league football, however, it’s tougher for the three men fighting for their futures while in the final year of their contracts.