Andy Awford issued an honest assessment to Pompey’s players ahead of tomorrow’s League One trip to Tranmere as he told them: You’ve underachieved.
The caretaker assistant manager has seen the Blues earn just five league victories from 20 games this season, with the club hovering above the relegation zone on goal difference.
But while Awford accepts the ongoing uncertainty at the club has played a part behind the struggles, he believes the players must show they have the stomach for the relegation fight and start playing to their true potential.
Awford said: ‘The players have been told in no uncertain terms that they are better than their the league position would suggest. So now it’s time they showed us that. They know they have underachieved as a group.
‘But I do have some sympathy for them, as well.
‘With all of the upheaval, I can understand the uncertainty and can see why the players have struggled.
‘They didn’t have pre-season together. Goodness knows how many players we have used already. The back four has changed constantly and we’ve had three different goalkeepers.
‘But I’m not making excuses for them because we shouldn’t be where we are in the league – that is a fact.’
Pompey are short on numbers and have been operating within the shackles of administration but still have plenty of quality in the squad.
Awford believes changes needed to be made to the atmosphere and spirit within the camp, though.
He said: ‘Since coming into the first-team set-up over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the players are all good footballers. They are all good lads and we haven’t got one bad person in the dressing room.
‘If they play to their maximum level of ability, there is enough in the dressing room to get us out of it.
‘I hate it when players are mollycoddled. I’m more of a person to say “let’s roll our sleeves up and get on with it.”
‘I understand that the average fan on the street might not understand, but when there is an uncertainty about your contract and where you might be playing next, it does play on your mind.
‘Some would say “get on with it” – and rightly so.
‘However, I do believe that, with the right set-up, the right spirit and the right atmosphere, we can lift things from where we are.’
With six games between now and New Year’s Day, Awford knows it is a vital period for the club in their battle to beat the drop.
He said: ‘Relegation hasn’t even been mentioned. We are fully focused on keeping the club in League One.
‘It will be a mammoth task to do that.
‘But we’ve got a massive period coming up over the next few weeks.
‘And I’m really looking forward to the Tranmere game to see if what we’ve put in place has an impact.
‘I’m not saying we will beat them. It couldn’t be much harder as they are top of the league.
‘But I want to see some of the work starting to come out.’