The Cross Word: Scores to settle if season has hope

Pompey suffered a 2-0 defeat Burton in September. Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey suffered a 2-0 defeat Burton in September. Picture: Joe Pepler
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Two games to save Pompey’s season – and two scores to settle.

And, let’s be honest, two games which will prove definitive in the Pompey managerial career of Andy Awford.

Successive defeats to Burton Albion and Southend in September put the brakes on a campaign which was growing in conviction.

Now the corresponding fixtures are likely to tell us, one way or the other, if there is any hope remaining.

With a trip to league-leaders Wycombe to round off the month, the direction this football club is headed will be come clear by the time Hartlepool arrive at Fratton Park on February 7.

Defeat at Newport County last weekend was a body blow given the performance at the division’s form side warranted a return.

The reasons they didn’t arrive have been well documented in the wake of the trip to Rodney Parade.

What isn’t in question is Justin Edinburgh tapped into a sentiment, in both games against Awford’s side this season, first aired by Phil Brown.

The Shrimpers boss, slightly arrogantly, suggested ‘there’s a way to play against Portsmouth’ ahead of the clash at Roots Hall last year.

Brown had taken in the televised 2-0 loss at Burton before that game and, no doubt, had been told how Newport set about the Blues in physical and effective manner in their 1-0 away success at the end of August.

The methodology behind the perma-tanned Geordie’s statement appeared to revolve around nullifying the high-tempo pressing game Awford regularly employs.

Doing a containing job before countering effectively and using a combative edge was his blueprint to dismantling the Blues.

It’s been an approach employed successfully on a number of occasions by League Two opponents.

The containing went on for just two minutes at the Pirelli Stadium six league games into the campaign.

That’s how long it took Adam McGurk to unlock a desperately flimsy rearguard back then.

Burton, though, largely employed the same formula of letting the Blues have plenty of the ball and sending an invite to try to break them down.

Awford’s side lacked the attacking vim to unlock them that day.

It may have slipped your mind amid the disappointing form since but that game was billed as an early acid test of Pompey’s promotion credentials.

Now the return could well assume crucial significance in deciding the 2014-15 season.

Does the 11-point gap to the play-offs widen and go from a speck on the horizon to disappearing out of sight?

Or does Awford get his Mendes moment, the catalyst he wants and has been desperately searching for?

The feeling for the 900 fans travelling back in disappointment from south Wales last weekend was there was as much chance of a late charge for the Ballon d’Or for one of the Blues squad as there was of seeing them make the top seven.

Even Nicky Shorey’s polite conviction it’s still possible felt like words he had to say. He was hardly about to reveal he’d given up hope.

But it’s a Football League truism a team will often make a charge into promotion contention from the chasing pack.

On January 31 last season, York City were 14 points off the play-offs and in a similar state of drift to Pompey.

By the start of April the Minstermen were in the top seven. A position they went on to secure.

Form comparable to Pompey’s last seven games of the same campaign, over an extended period, achieved that return.

A win of impact to give a glimmer of hope and begin building the same momentum is what’s needed.

Pompey will need to answer those who believe they have their measure to do that.