Woodford delighted with lead role

Ryan Woodford. Picture: Dave Haines
Ryan Woodford. Picture: Dave Haines
Stephane Bombelenga netted the leveller. Picture: Keith Woodland

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Ryan Woodford has to pinch himself as he leads the Hawks out as captain just over a month after he was resigned to leaving the club.

The 21-year-old defender hardly figured in manager Stuart Ritchie’s plans and looked to be heading out of Westleigh Park.

His fortunes, however, changed in dramatic fashion.

Ritchie was sacked after just 10 games in charge, with Adie Aymes taking over as caretaker-manager.

From being out in the wilderness, not only did Woodford regain his place but he was also made skipper.

And since the arrival of new manager Lee Bradbury, Woodford has continued in both roles.

‘I felt I wasn’t given a fair chance under Stuart Ritchie,’ said Woodford.

‘In pre-season, all the other lads seemed to be getting minutes on the pitch and I was constantly having to play catch-up.

‘I am not saying I was better than any of the others but all I wanted was an opportunity.

‘The new defenders coming in was good for competition and I believe that can help bring the best out of you.

‘It was obvious, though, that I didn’t feature in Ritchie’s plans.

‘All I could do was get my head down and continue to work hard.

‘I never stopped believing in my own ability.’

Woodford is a product of the Pompey academy and earned a squad number with the Fratton Park club, before his release in 2009.

Injury has since forced him out for long spells during his three years at Westleigh Park.

He has battled back to full fitness, though, when other players may simply have given up and is now reaping the just rewards.

Even so, Woodford was shocked to suddenly find himself wearing the captain’s armband.

‘It was a surprise, but a pleasant one,’ said Woodford.

‘Though I am one of the youngest players in the team, I am enjoying it and see it as a big honour.

‘At the moment, I just feel gutted for our new manager.

‘He’s only been here a few weeks but everything he’s done has been first class.

‘It’s been like a breath of fresh air.

‘I can’t see us not climbing up the table pretty soon because there is a great set of lads here and our performances are improving.

‘We were gutted to lose against Welling and feel we just need that little bit of extra luck to turn things around.’