16 and counting – Awford’s contracts conundrum

Patrick Agyemang is among the 16 Pompey players who are out of contract in the summer Picture: Joe Pepler

Patrick Agyemang is among the 16 Pompey players who are out of contract in the summer Picture: Joe Pepler

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They accounted for 75 per cent of the Pompey back four which lined-up against Burton.

Elsewhere, more than half of those huddled together on the substitutes’ bench were members of the same group.

A band of brothers united by an uncertain Fratton Park future.

There are those Blues followers yearning for the end of this disenchanting campaign, albeit as long as their club does not fall through the League Two trapdoor at its curtain call.

For many of the players, the summer could see them lose their job, their Football League status or, even more sobering, their careers.

A total of 16 Pompey footballers are out of contract this summer.

Put it another way – that’s 55 per cent of Andy Awford’s current squad.

The tantalising opportunity for a massive overhaul among what remains a sizeable gathering of players who continue to underachieve.

Not that Awford would dare say it, but how he must be licking his lips in delicious anticipation.

Some he wants to keep. Adam Webster and Dan Butler, for example, are marching ahead of their team-mates by spending the past few months discussing fresh terms.

The other 14 have been put on the back burner, clearly viewed not as pressing as the young duo Awford wishes to build a team around.

Besides, as Pompey’s manager insisted in The News on Thursday, boosting the points return currently takes on greater precedence than negotiating with those concerned about their south-coast futures.

Certainly Awford realises, unless results buck up and he recaptures the hearts of the growing Fratton dissenters, then he may not even make the summer himself.

The boos which greeted the 1-1 draw with Burton last Saturday were surely reflective of the dissatisfaction with the manager rather than what was undoubtedly an encouraging display.

After all, the Brewers were placed in second, mustered two shots on target and relied on an equaliser seven minutes from the end.

Of that Blues line-up, defensive trio Joe Devera, Nicky Shorey and Adam Webster are out of contract at the season’s end.

Similarly, the bench consisted of forthcoming freebees Ryan Taylor, Ben Chorley, loanee Paul McCallum and Butler.

Others with expiring deals not involved are Wes Fogden, Patrick Agyemang, Tom Craddock, Danny East and Ricky Holmes.

Finally, there are the youngsters, consisting of Ben Close, Bradley Tarbuck, Nick Awford and Jack Maloney.

Decisions for Awford to reach as he plots the way ahead for a group of players whose remit of a play-off challenge has fallen distinctly flat.

It would indeed be a magnificent achievement if that situation could be turned around during this season’s remaining 21 League Two matches.

In the meantime, we can only speculate those Awford intends to clear-out, although the hitlist is largely a straight-forward affair.

Unquestionably two on their way out of the Fratton Park exit under Awford are Holmes and Agyemang.

Judging by his early burst of form at Northampton, Holmes already appears to have takers ahead of his Pompey contract running down.

The reigning News/Sports Mail player of the season has so far made three appearances for Chris Wilder’s side, notching the winner against Dagenham & Redbridge last weekend.

Not quite such a positive recent loan spell for Agyemang at Dagenham & Redbridge, where he failed to make the final two matchday squads of his Victoria Road stay before returning to Pompey.

The 34-year-old has no Blues future.

Butler’s progression and Awford’s desire to retain him casts doubt over Shorey’s on-going involvement.

Turning 34 next month, clearly the gap is closing with his rival, although Shorey has made 19 appearances and is at present Awford’s preferred choice at left-back.

A reliable performer and steadying presence, Shorey also plays an important role in the dressing room.

But the Pompey boss must decide whether Butler is now ready to take over.

Knee ligament damage has sidelined Wes Fogden so far this season, robbing the Blues of a player hugely influential in their successful fight against relegation last term.

Encouragingly, Awford has pinpointed a training return at the end of February for the midfielder – time then to prove he is over his injury.

Similarly, Craddock is bidding to demonstrate his fitness following 13 months out with a career-threatening knee problem.

So far the striker has made two reserve appearances this season, scoring once. And Awford believes he is edging ever-closer to first-team reckoning.

Completing the trio climbing off the treatment table is East, who is currently on loan at Aldershot, where he has made two appearances before today.

Nick Awford and Maloney are well away from the first team and face a massive battle to convince they are worthy of additional 12-month deals.

The manager’s son has not made a squad since his Football League debut at Plymouth, while winger Maloney is enjoying a successful loan spell with Poole Town.

In contrast, promising first-year professionals Close and Tarbuck deserve another year to develop.

Chorley is a good pro but has not convinced since his red card against York last season, with appearances subsequently sporadic.

That leaves Taylor and Devera – first-team regulars whose futures will no doubt attract plenty of debate among supporters.

Devera is reliable, playing considerably better this term and, when fit, has mostly been in Awford’s sides.

Taylor has disappointed in the current campaign, nonetheless remains a highly-useful striker who can operate effectively in a niche role.

Let the clear-out begin.