Pompey 1 Mansfield Town 1

Paul Robinson scores the equaliser. Picture: Joe Pepler
Paul Robinson scores the equaliser. Picture: Joe Pepler
Dave Wright. Picture: Colin Farmery

Boss hoping Wright can bolster Pompey’s squad

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The volume was eerily muted by Fratton Park’s own high standards.

But then a crackle of noise emerged a few decibels above the quiet on three sides of the ground.

It was the sound of the 15,000-plus Pompey fans turning to the person sat next to them and saying: This match is a load of rubbish.

‘I wouldn’t have wanted to pay to watch it,’ said Andy Awford, as he tried to fathom the reasons for the turgid effort.

‘I’ve never known it like it here. I don’t like it and I don’t want it to happen again. It was dull.’

Dull was generous to his players. Throw in lifeless, prosaic, frustrating and sloppy and you start to arrive at what the hushed Fratton faithful were witnessing.

Thankfully, there was no sugar-coating going on. No attempts to paint a bleak view into a pretty picture.

This wasn’t admiring the vista across the city from Portsdown Hill on a summer’s day.

No, more like looking west towards Fawley Power Station in the gloom.

But things were to get worse before it got better for a Pompey side finding a campaign of early promise now drifting into a state of flux.

Awford couldn’t remember a shot of note in 45 minutes which had the perspiration to match Mansfield’s physical approach but was bereft of any invention.

The challenge for the players was to win the right to play against a Stags side who lived up to their no-nonsense billing. The Pompey boss remains certain there is the quality in his team’s ranks to have an impact, if that basic requirement in fulfilled.

It was missing from the final pass or cross, though.

The cuteness in runs off the ball was absent and the tempo of passing to pull open organised but limited opposition nowhere to be seen.

Jed Wallace’s pass just lacking the weight to put Danny Hollands clean through after five minutes was typical of the action, or lack of.

The best Pompey saw beyond that was a tame Ryan Taylor 25-yarder, a deflected Michael Drennan effort and a Hollands blocked shot after 30 minutes. Slim pickings.

Another of the Blues’ smart corner routines being laid off to Drennan only for it work the stewards in the Milton End, instead of keeper Sacha Studer, summed things up.

The stagnant puddles in the Fratton Park car park after a morning of heavy rain had more life than the football.

Mansfield had a case for saying they had the better of it with Rakish Bingham, a free-transfer arrival from Wigan at the end of August, a livewire threat.

A mistake from Joe Devera allowed him to beat the defender before firing at Jones after nine minutes.

Their duel was to develop in the second half.

Before that the visitors were to increase the chuntering Pompey fans’ ire just 57 seconds after the restart.

It was dozy stuff as a slow reaction to a Mansfield throw saw Matt Rhead’s flick worked to Simon Heslop.

The midfielder then eked out enough space on the edge of the box to rifle a shot past Jones.

The goal prompted a period of self-doubt for Pompey as more passes went astray and Paul Cox’s men set about working the clock down.

The chants for Patrick Agyemang spoke of the need for a spark as the Drennan-Taylor partnership impotently toiled.

It was the other introduction after 68 minutes which was the catalyst for his team’s revival, though.

Nigel Atangana is building himself a decent reputation with his team’s fans.

Having your own chant is a Fratton status symbol and the Frenchman showed he is worthy of that standing with his game-changing impact.

It took just two minutes following his introduction for Pompey to level with the best move of the match.

A corner was recycled and fed to the wily feet of Nicky Shorey, who waited for the overlapping Atangana.

The timing and weight of the pass was textbook, allowing the pull-back to find the unlikely goal source of Paul Robinson’s right boot. From that moment forward, the game’s pattern was defined.

The questions were Pompey’s as they asked the visitor’s battered defensive options could they escape with a point?

Hollands hit a shot on the angle and Wallace’s ball fizzed across goal with no royal blue shirt able to apply the final touch.

Then came Hollands’ 83rd-minute drive which forced Studer into the best of a number of decent stops.

Jones marginally outshone his opposite, though, with an array of saves which kept Bingham off the scoresheet – a fingertip effort with 14 minutes left the standout.

But Pompey’s problems aren’t arriving at that end of the pitch at the moment.

The fact it was a swing of a defensive lynchpin’s leg which stroked home Pompey’s goal is revealing.

Not as telling, or damning, though, as the fact that it is now eight league games without a Blues striker hitting the back of the net.

The League Two table informs us just Hartlepool and Cheltenham have scored fewer goals than the side now sat in 12th place.

Craig Westcarr’s six-game barren run led to him being taken out of the equation.

In his absence, though, the Drennan-Taylor link-up stuttered.

Miles Storey and Agyemang are now knocking on the door, with Awford intimating Taylor could be set for an extended run before the game.

Awford is concerned about the consequences of placing too much emphasis on Pompey’s attacking deficiencies.

But those shortcomings are so glaring they can’t be ignored.

The regular video analysis
sessions at Pompey will today focus on the problems which led to a smattering of deflated boos on the full-time whistle.

Cracking the code and finding the right striking formula – one which, quite simply, puts the ball in the net – is what is now needed.

Fans can take solace from the fact Awford will carry the burden of 
finding the answers squarely on his shoulders.

Where others before him shrugged and said they’d faced bigger challenges, this Pompey boss feels the weight of delivering for his club.

But the clock is ticking when it comes to solving a conundrum which will go a long way to deciding Pompey’s fate this season.