Newport 1 Pompey 0

Pompey fall behind at Newport. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey fall behind at Newport. Picture: Joe Pepler
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Simmering fury was still seeping from every pore of Andy Awford as he addressed the press.

The biting January chill in the air at Newport County had failed to cool his emotions a jot as he attempted to conduct his post-match duties.

Then, as he was trying to verbalise the injustice of seeing a result against League Two’s form side ripped from his team’s grasp, the source of his ire surfaced.

Just like Exiles striker Aaron O’Connor did to keeper Paul Jones in the game’s decisive moment, referee Michael Bull made an appearance in Awford’s line of vision.

It just so happened to be at the very second he was delivering an admirably reserved assessment of the Chelmsford official’s inept performance.

The referee, his assistant and match assessor chose to keep their heads facing the ground, though, as they scurried around Awford and off into the Gwent night.

O’Connor’s impact had been a heck of a lot more visible, however, just over an hour earlier.

His positioning – in an offside area – as Mark Byrne bent a tame shot towards goal, left Jones totally in the dark as to what was happening in front of him.

The flag from Bull’s assistant was instant as the ball lightly nestled inside the far post.

And, so we waited expectantly for the decision to arrive in Pompey’s favour. A free-kick as clear as can be. Give it – and let’s get on with the game.

But we really should’ve known better.

After all, it was exactly the same five minutes before the break as Byrne impeded the continually impressive Jed Wallace in the penalty area with an outstretched leg.

Everyone in Rodney Parade knew it was a spot-kick.

Pompey fans did, Newport fans did, Edinburgh did as he shrugged his shoulders apologetically to Awford and so did Byrne himself – as he was decent enough to admit afterwards.

Unfortunately the man whose opinion counts the most – and is paid to get these things right – couldn’t see the bleedin’ obvious.

So why did we think it would be any different midway through the second half as Bull consulted his colleague?

‘Apparently he didn’t even ask him if we was interfering with play,’ said Awford, who was as perplexed as he was furious by the official’s incompetence.

‘He only asked if he touched the ball.’

When the referees’ handbook uses obstructing a keepers’ line of vision as an example of interference, you have to wonder why that’s the case.

So often manager’s talk of being wronged by officials in a vain attempt to disguise their own side’s deficiencies.

That wasn’t the case here.

Let’s get it right and let’s be perfectly clear. Pompey’s level of performance, not officials, will decide their fate this season.

A single win on the road in the league all campaign and one win in 10 is about as miserable as miserable gets.

But, taken in isolation, this performance told a very different story.

Facing the form team in this division, a side unbeaten on their own patch since the opening day in the league, Awford got it tactically spot on.

Combatting Newport’s long-running 3-5-2 success story, Awford employed a narrow four-man midfield and ditched the 4-2-3-1 system from the impressive 1-1 draw at Luton.

The arrival of League Two’s top marksman, in Matt Tubbs, had plenty to do with that.

Tubbs was afforded the strike partner needed to get the best out of him in Ryan Taylor, a man who looked more like the focal point so crucial to Pompey at the end of last season.

But it was the freedom the rampant Jed Wallace was afforded which tormented the hosts in the first half.

It took no more than a couple of minutes for Wallace to produce the first of the surging runs which continued at a steady rate for the rest of the afternoon.

Taylor was having plenty of joy, too, as he pulled on the shoulder of Regan Poole and fed on long diagonal balls.

Without there being an abundance of clear-cut chances, it was all looking promising for Pompey.

And it should have got a lot better five minutes before the break when Wallace went to ground in the box.

O’Connor flashed a shot wide three minutes later but the platform had been built with the rowdy Rodney Parade crowd quietened.

Newport had more purpose about them after the restart, though, but then came the moment we all thought Tubbs’ predatory instincts would begin to deliver a return.

The impressive Nigel Atangana fed Taylor with a quick crossfield pass after 51 minutes and his cross-shot fell in the six-yard box which is the new-boy’s domain.

His ability to apply the crucial touch was missing, however, to the delight of Newport fans who told him what they felt about his value.

It could have done with a predatory foot from Tubbs to apply the finish as Wallace’s drilled ball fizzed across the goal line after 62 minutes, too.

Adam Webster appeared the closest to converting.

The game’s decisive moment arrived with 22 minutes left, as Bull took centre stage.

Pompey looked like they were wilting after the goal before a double attacking change from Awford, introducing Andy Barcham and Craig Westcarr, put his side back on the front foot.

Webster forced Joe Day into a save from 30 yards.

Then arrived a second late penalty appeal for handball amid the Blues onslaught.

The goal never arrived, though, and Jed Wallace, on his 100th senior appearance, was left to remonstrate with the officials along with his team-mates on the final whistle.

Pompey have been poor on the road this season. More often than not results have reflected performances.

That irrefutably was not the case against Justin Edinburgh’s side.

But there was no happy outcome for Awford on his return to the scene of his first victory as Pompey boss last April.

He went to south Wales hoping for this to be the springboard that day was.

Everyone now has their opinion on whether he’s the man to carry Pompey forward. No-one doubted that nine months ago.

A string of relatively easy games followed then. No such luck this time.

And luck is what Awford could do with a touch of at the moment, as the play-offs begin to look a forlorn ambition.

Sadly there was little in the way of good fortune for Pompey’s boss on his return to where it all started.