Pompey 1 Burton 1

Andy Barcham on the attack for Pompey. Picture: Joe Pepler
Andy Barcham on the attack for Pompey. Picture: Joe Pepler
Conor Chaplin. Pic: Joe Pepler

Baker and team selection to fore as Pompey fans have say

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There was a sniff of change in the air at Fratton Park.

The orange digger lumbering across adjacent land now unrecognisable from its previous incarnation as the Fratton end car park.

A reshuffling of the players’ entrance, disorientated members of the Blues squad instead redirected to the corner of the North stand.

The scramble for spaces in the revamped North car park, Guy Whittingham having the foresight to ditch his car elsewhere and walk to the ground to carry out Radio Solent duties.

And a glimmer that maybe, just maybe this Pompey team is slowly turning itself around.

Of course, there are Blues fans advocating a change at the top with Andy Awford remaining under pressure.

Come the final whistle, boos rang out from some, clearly expectant of victory over second-placed Burton Albion and disappointed at the subsequent outcome.

Nonetheless, there remained encouraging signals for Pompey fans to read following Saturday’s 1-1 scoreline.

Had it not been for an 83rd-minute leveller from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s side, Awford could even have been toasting a first win in seven matches.

As it was, they rose two places in the league, but curiously slipped closer towards the League Two relegation zone, only three points the difference.

Still, it was a positive Fratton Park performance from the Blues at a time when Awford clearly cannot afford to rack up too many defeats in close proximity.

Since the insipid home display against AFC Wimbledon, his side have shown guts, commitment, determination and a passion criminally missing for too long in this demoralising campaign.

In addition, against the Brewers for a 20-minute spell – before they were rudely interrupted by the half-time whistle – they produced some of their finest football of the campaign.

A crumb of comfort to cling onto, but fed-up fans will take anything at present, even a half a half.

Sadly that duration of sustained attacking football could not be maintained. Yet it emerged – 14,323 present witnessed such long-awaited moments.

Crucially, it was a purple patch which yielded Jed Wallace’s opener, yet the criticism was there should have been more.

The goal which broke the deadlock was a joy to witness, a wonderful flowing move fans have rarely witnessed in recent months.

Nicky Shorey swung a cross in from the left, Matt Tubbs cleverly cushioned a header back towards Andy Barcham, who in turn fired in a fierce half-volley.

Keeper Jon McLaughlin acrobatically finger-tipped his shot against the post and there was Wallace on the angle to slot into an empty net.

Goal number 12 of the campaign for the youngster, who the previous week celebrated his 100th appearance for the Blues.

For a side which has frustratingly been largely devoid of attacking ideas, that spell provided genuine hope that such woes are now at an end.

Burton stumbled, they tottered, they wilted under some intense pressure, at one point panic setting in as McLaughlin crashed a clearance against defender John Mousinho after getting into a muddle.

The keeper managed to scramble back to prevent the loose ball entering the empty net, yet the visitors were reeling.

By that stage the Burton man had already saved smartly at the feet of Tubbs, strangling the goal-scoring opportunity with a swiftness off his line.

Wallace had attempted a clever left-foot chip, after good work by Tubbs and Barcham, only for the lob to drop straight into McLaughlin’s arms.

Then there was a tremendous ball out of defence from Adam Webster which picked out Tubbs, marvellously, inside the box, only he couldn’t quite gather.

Also a pass by Craig Westcarr intended for Tubbs saw George Raft deflect wide.

How the side positioned second in the table were wilting under such relentless pressure.

Entertaining stuff, not words Pompey fans will have said too often this season.

Admittedly, in stoppage time Matty Palmer did sky over the bar from six yards following good work by Stuart Beavon.

The Blues’ response was to counter through Wallace down the right and his ball into the centre was fractionally out of reach for Westcarr with just the keeper to beat.

Perhaps it was with a degree of inevitability it was a different Pompey were strode out for the second half. Football does that.

Awford’s side never managed to match those previous giddy heights, struggling to raise a shot on their opponents’ goal.

Granted, two minutes in when Nigel Atangana flicked on Westcarr’s corner, Webster did arrive at the far post to power a goal-bound header.

Only a remarkable reaction save from McLaughlin thwarted him from point-blank range.

After that, they barely managed to raise a meaningful attack, retreating into their shell and willingly focusing on defending.

Perhaps it was fear, maybe it was nerves.

But it was a contrasting Pompey side who inhabited that second half.

Not that Burton were particularly threatening themselves.

The back four led marvellously by new skipper Paul Robinson in complete control to blunt their effectiveness.

Then, in the 83rd minute, the equaliser arrived out of nothing.

After an attack down the centre, the ball fell to Darragh Lenihan and the Brewers midfielder drove home a precise left-foot finish from outside the box.

Tough to take for the hosts who appeared comfortable and in control of their slender lead.

Although that may have been the problem.

Nonetheless a decent point to add to the one at Luton and a good display at Newport County the previous weekend during this testing run of fixtures against the top five.

A smell of progress for Awford as he battles to turn Pompey’s season around amid a backdrop of growing calls for his head. The smattering of boos at the final whistle reflected as much.

Although with fixtures against Southend and Wycombe approaching, the ride remains a tough one.