Pompey 0 Shrewsbury 2

So Josh Passley showed up at Fratton Park late, while many Pompey fans walked out early.

Monday, 30th March 2015, 7:00 pm
Bobby Grant scores his second. Picture: Joe Pepler

As for Andy Awford’s team, they didn’t turn up at all.

Following the unstoppable brilliance of February, on Saturday the curtain was brought down on a wretched March.

It seems the glorious second month of the year was nothing more than a blip, a one-off in a wasted season fans are desperate to see the back of.

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In the cruellest manner, that impressive haul of 14 points from a possible 18 stirred hopes of a late play-off challenge.

Since then, League Two’s reigning manager of the month has collected five from the next 18 up for grabs, as his job once more appears perilous in the face of growing fan criticism.

Irrespective of opinions over Awford’s suitability in the role, the fact remains Pompey have woefully under-performed over the duration of the season so far.

Except for February, with his strongest team available, positive results stacking up and clean sheets aplenty.

Otherwise this club with pre-season aspirations of a play-off challenge, armed with one of the highest wage bills in League Two, which has allowed the employment of 39 players in the first team, has failed.

Not good enough – and surely to a man, woman and child, the Fratton faithful will agree on that.

On Saturday they came up against a Shrewsbury Town side Awford afterwards described as one of the best to visit Fratton Park this season.

He has a point – Shrewsbury demonstrated why they are second in the table and destined for an instant return to League One.

Upon his summer arrival and inheriting a squad with effectively three players, Micky Mellon was given the remit of automatic promotion – and they are heading there.

In contrast, Pompey are 14th with seven matches to go, 11 points away the play-offs and 11 points ahead of the relegation zone.

In terms of progress, last term they finished 13th with a smaller budget and inferior squad.

Not good enough.

There were boos at the final whistle – of course there were, although many supporters had already left at that stage to create swathes of empty seats.

By all accounts, the Shepherds Crook was packed long before the miserable 2-0 defeat was confirmed, poor souls seeking early solace in a drink.

Meanwhile, illness kept chairman Iain McInnes away from proceedings. Always an emotional figure in the directors’ box, he would have combusted if he had been present.

Not that Awford needs lecturing on the inadequacies of this season, holding a lengthy post-match inquest in the dressing room afterwards.

When he emerged he declined to go into details. ‘That stays private’ was his response, but the subject matter was abundantly clear.

That is now two dreadful performances in a row from his team as they limp towards the end of the season, to not only threaten their removal from the club, but also the manager’s.

Throw in failure to test 10-man Accrington, an inability to beat rock-bottom Cheltenham at home and the rejected Ricky Holmes returning to haunt the Blues at Northampton, and March has been as bad as February was good.

Even the victory against Luton was driven by an excellent rearguard display.

It also arrived in the middle of a current Hatters run of six successive defeats.

On Saturday, Shrewsbury cruised to victory, barely breaking sweat in a comfortable stroll to cement their promotion ambitions.

The hosts mustered up just two shots on target, while former skipper Liam Lawrence revelled on his return, conducting his side from the centre of midfield with ease.

Aside from a 15-minute improvement after the interval, Awford’s men were flat, woefully short of ideas, lethargic and second best. Not good enough.

Then there was the sideshow of Josh Passley being sent home having turned up at Fratton Park 25 minutes late.

Apparently his timekeeping has been a concern on other occasions.

But regardless of such issues his loan from Fulham was extended until the end of the season on Thursday.

Still, his absence forced Awford to name a side unchanged from AFC Wimbledon, ensuring Danny East kept his place at right wing-back.

Loanees Cole Kpekawa and Nyron Nosworthy retained their spots, with Adam Webster and Johnny Ertl once again nowhere near the squad.

As for Craig Westcarr, Awford’s chief striker signing in the summer, he was nudged off the bench by rookie Conor Chaplin following successive hat-tricks in the previous eight days.

Meanwhile, Paul Robinson and Jack Whatmough’s glaring absences continue to be felt – and the remainder of a squad which continues to be one of the biggest in the league still struggles to cope. Not good enough.

There was certainly little for any Pompey follower to appreciate during the 90 minutes which followed as they once again were subjected to their team’s shortcomings.

Shrewsbury had forced a number of corners during growing pressure and eventually took the lead on 25 minutes through Bobby Grant.

The midfielder on loan from Blackpool cut in from the right and curled a superb left-foot finished past Paul Jones.

In contrast, Awford’s men couldn’t even conjure up a reasonable goal attempt during that opening 45 minutes, and were booed off at the break.

At the interval, and with Wes Fogden having already replaced the injured East, Pompey’s boss ditched the wing-backs and employed a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield.

Within 30 seconds, however, Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro broke down the left and struck the right-hand post.

Still, the Blues did rally with their change of system, Wallace drawing a save out of Jayson Leutwiler and Fogden’s follow-up charged down.

Then on 66 minutes, Grant made sure with a left-foot shot into the net, from the edge of the box.

Awford needs to pick up another 10 points from the remaining seven matches to equal last season’s League Two tally of 59.

That consists of four away fixtures – a massive drawback considering the Blues’ oft-discussed problems on the road this season, reaping a mere two league victories.

And none of it is good enough.