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25 October ~ When Portsmouth turn up at fifth-placed Shrewsbury tomorrow, travelling fans will be wondering about the team’s formation as much as their form. After a promising start propelled Andy Awford’s newly debt-free Pompey charges among the League Two front runners early on, things have rather stalled of late. The midweek 3-2 victory over Stevenage brought much-needed relief; a first win in six league outings delivering on the promise of a response from Awford after a dispiritingly shot-shy showing at Bury last weekend.
While considerable progress is being made off the pitch, only a fool would either predict a rapid rise back (or want one, considering where it got us last time). This is a club still taking deep lungfuls of breath after resurfacing from the depths. It is on the road where Pompey have endured most hardship. A Shrews side that thumped five past Bury without reply in midweek will look ominous to a team that has failed to find the net in any of their five previous away fixtures. The most recent, a 3-0 defeat against the aforementioned Bury, had Awford shaking his head after his team mustered a solitary shot on target.
Awford deserves time and sympathy. A one-club man through and through since arriving at Fratton Park as a teenager, he is a great fit for the times in which the club operates. Like his youthful mentor Alan Ball, he knows the city and its people inside out and there is a will for him to succeed. It would appear – currently at least – that he is uncertain either of what exactly he has at his disposal, or just what those players are capable of doing; the 5-3-2 system deployed at home has at times left the midfield in danger of being swamped by visiting sides.
Though goals have been hard to come by, the defence at least has been far tighter than last term – just 14 conceded. But of the five teams that have scored fewer than our 14, two currently occupy the relegation slots, with another just above. A much-improved performance – particularly by Danny Hollands – in a 4-4-2 against Stevenage suggests an upturn in fortunes is imminent. And if we can’t silence the Shrews, at least we can aim a couple of shots goalward. We live in hope: we’ve had little choice but to get used to it. Steve Morgan