Pompey 1 Charlton 2

Danny Hollands scores. Picture: Joe Pepler
Danny Hollands scores. Picture: Joe Pepler
Joe Dandy. Picture Ian Hargreave

Kelly salutes Pompey Academy’s battling qualities

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An irate fan clambered to the front of the upper section of the south stand to bring his voice closer to its target.

‘We’re going down,’ he screamed.

‘It’s all falling apart.’

So heavy is the pressure applied by some to win pre-season fixtures these days.

Except this middle-aged chap wasn’t even a Pompey fan – he was a Charlton supporter.

Perhaps he was alarmed his side didn’t triumph more handsomely against an outfit operating two divisions below.

Maybe it was a back-handed compliment in recognition of the manner Andy Awford’s side had performed in their final friendly of the summer.

Regardless, Charlton won 2-1 and while some Blues fans departed Fratton Park chuntering away about a third successive defeat, the Addicks follower was escorted away by a steward while bellowing at bemused boss Bob Peeters.

So it wasn’t just the returning Tal Ben Haim on the receiving end of harsh words from the crowd on Saturday.

Still, as ever, managers will point to fitness and establishing team patterns being of primary importance for pre-season fixtures.

Andy Awford cut a relaxed figure after the match – reclining in a dug-out seat to conduct his interviews with his usual brand of humour and openness.

It mattered not his team had slipped to a 2-1 defeat, the pre-season campaign is over, the dress rehearsals completed.

In the grand scheme of Pompey ambition, differing results against the likes of Ebbsfleet and Thurrock are largely inconsequential.

The real goal is St James Park next weekend for the start of a League Two campaign in which his side are widely expected to challenge for the play-offs at the very minimum.

The outcome of a six-match friendly programme containing mixed results will not concern Pompey’s boss – and neither should it.

He will surely be considerably more disappointed his pre-season preparations have been hindered by injuries to Wes Fogden, Danny East, Michael Poke, Ricky Holmes, Ryan Taylor and Ben Close at times.

In addition, Patrick Agyemang hobbled out of training on Friday with a hamstring concern which ruled him out of the Charlton clash and likely beyond.

Unable to field his preferred starting XI in any of the games has been a setback for Awford ahead of that Exeter trip.

There has been plenty of experimentation within his trademark 4-2-3-1 system – with 28 players used over the course of the summer – but little opportunity to name his strongest line-up.

Saturday was the first time Awford had partnered what is surely his favoured central-defensive partnership in Ben Chorley and Jack Whatmough.

As it was, they were united for 63 minutes and as a duo did little to quell the growing feeling among supporters there are defensive frailties ahead.

Chorley’s failure to clear prompted Charlton’s second goal, while his decision to stop to appeal for handball with match action continuing around him contributed to the second-half penalty the visitors missed.

Still, Awford’s team has steadily taken shape and irrespective of the absentees there will be no surprise over the vast majority of his line-up on August 9.

And crucially there will be members of the squad heading into it displaying form and with fitness up to speed.

Glancing at the squad, Adam Webster is assured of the right-back spot having now featured there for the last three matches and putting in showings which have grown in stature.

Paul Jones appeared as a second-half substitute in place of Michael Poke but will start as number one, regardless of that Bournemouth mistake, while Nicky Shorey is a certainty.

In the sitting midfield area, Danny Hollands was gloriously reminiscent of the player who put in those fine displays at the end of last season.

His Bournemouth showing had been a low – a fact bluntly admitted by the 28-year-old himself after returning to form against the Addicks on Saturday.

With a headed goal in the first half and a left-foot shot against the crossbar in the second, he reminded us all what a crucial performer he is going to be in the season ahead.

Alongside him the combative James Dunne completed his first 90 minutes and has unquestionably been one of the most impressive players so far.

There is little doubt they will start against the Grecians, while in front of them Jed Wallace can expect to be on the right of the attacking three.

Craig Westcarr was deeply disappointing on Saturday – particularly in a sloppy first-half showing – but with four summer goals and having 90 minutes under his belt, he will operate behind the striker at Exeter.

The left flank is surely earmarked for Holmes once he has recovered from his thigh injury and, similarly, leading the attack will be Taylor once over his groin troubles.

It’s all falling into place for Awford – even if the results may have distracted some of the Fratton faithful, judging from their post-match reactions.

On Saturday, though, the Blues did well in parts of a match, which early in the second half declined into standard pre-season fare amid a flurry of substitutes.

The impressive Igor Vetokele broke the deadlock on 19 minutes, leaving Dunne and Webster in his wake before unleashing a ferocious right-foot shot into the far corner.

Just four minutes later Wallace’s free-kick was delivered to the far post where Chorley headed it back across goal for Hollands to stoop and head home from close range.

But the match-winner came in the 25th minute when Chorley should have cleared but simply let George Tucudean nip in to surge forward and produce a classy finish.

Hollands came agonisingly close to an equaliser when he rattled the bar on 50 minutes, while Jones saved Johnnie Jackson’s 61st-minute penalty at the other end after Dunne had fouled Vetokele.

As it was, the Addicks held out for a victory not appreciated by all – while bigger prizes await Pompey.