Pompey manager’s delight at man of steel’s return

James Dunne. Picture: Joe Pepler
James Dunne. Picture: Joe Pepler
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Andy Awford has toasted the morale-boosting return of his Pompey man of steel to the midfield ranks.

James Dunne was a surprise presence on the Blues bench for the 1-1 draw at Luton on Sunday.

The 25-year-old’s comeback following a knee operation had originally been pencilled in for a January 6 reserve fixture.

Instead Dunne gave the dressing room a lift by declaring himself fit for duty at Kenilworth Road.

Having missed the previous eight matches, the combative performer appeared from the bench for the final 16 minutes.

And Awford is delighted to have the midfield enforcer available for selection once again.

‘I kept that one quiet,’ admitted Awford.

‘I made that decision Saturday morning, went and saw the physios and said I wanted him.

‘They were okay with that and comfortable with it.

‘I spoke to James and he was also comfortable with it – and you always know what you are going to get with him.

‘He went on for the last 16 minutes and did what James Dunne does, so it’s good to have him back in the fold.

‘We have missed him, to be honest.

‘That is no disrespect to the other lads but he gives you that steel in the middle of the park.

‘Just him being around gave everyone a lift.

‘As soon as the team sheet went up on Saturday I told him to get around a few of the boys because they were going to be delighted to see him back out there as he is a very good player.

‘It has been a little bit of a long road for him and we have to be careful with him.

‘I was actually tempted to start with him at Luton but it would not have been fair on him.

‘He would only have been able to feature for 45 to 60 minutes.

‘We did the right thing and got 16 minutes out of him – and he played his part.’

Pompey picked up just one win during Dunne’s eight-game absence from the first team.

That period contained five defeats – league losses against Plymouth, Tranmere, Accrington Stanley and AFC Wimbledon, and FA Cup elimination at Aldershot.

Following his summer arrival, Dunne has established himself as a fans’ favourite through his tough-tackling displays.

And his comeback helped net an impressive point at the high-flying Hatters, after appearing as a substitute in place of Andy Barcham.

It was a fixture in which the recalled Johnny Ertl also shone in central midfield in the absence of the sick Danny Hollands.

Awford added: ‘Danny was ill. He had a bit of a fever so we decided to leave him alone.

‘He would have played if I had asked him to but after a sleepless night and 80 minutes on Boxing Day he would have been in no fit state to run through brick walls and we decided to go without.’