Cheltenham 1 Pompey 1

Nigel Atangana scores the equaliser against Cheltenham. Picture: Joe Pepler
Nigel Atangana scores the equaliser against Cheltenham. Picture: Joe Pepler

The Father Christmas pitch invasion at half-time raised a rare away-day smile.

Yet it was Nigel Atangana with his timely maiden goal who prompted the festive cheers to emanate from Pompey fans.

In isolation, a 1-1 draw at a relegation-threatened Cheltenham represents a disappointing result for a club ambitious for promotion.

But put into context of the Blues’ wretched form on their travels, the point was an important one in the battle for consistency.

Away from Fratton Park, not since October 4 at York have the Blues avoided defeat, subsequently suffering five consecutive losses.

With four goals in total heading to Whaddon Road, no side outside the Premier League had scored fewer, as the damning statistics continued to rack up.

Such has been the alarm with the away form and its devastation of Pompey’s season, Alan McLoughlin was jettisoned from his first-team coaching role and Gary Waddock recruited.

On Saturday, however, the 1,077 visiting supporters witnessed a point – truly an experience to treasure in the current climate.

Andy Awford felt he should have had more. Certainly 61 per cent of possession during a dominant second half reflects well.

Nonetheless, it was a crucial first step and the grins and pats on the backs among his players after the final whistle demonstrated its significance.

There was a time when goalless draws at strugglers Hartlepool and York were viewed as wasted opportunities in a campaign of such early promise.

The sadness is they are now regarded as positive results, such has been the abject outcome on the road for the Blues as the months have marched by.

Saturday at least offered a crumb of comfort as Awford’s men fought back from falling behind to deservedly depart Gloucestershire with a point.

Not ideal, granted, but gratefully accepted by a side much-changed and lined up in a different system during this hunt for a reversal of fortune.

The architect was Atangana, his stunning goal drawing the sides level on 56 minutes and creating his own personal landmark.

Accepting Jack Whatmough’s pass, he took one touch before unleashing a powerful right-foot effort from outside the area past Trevor Carson.

It was a sensational strike for the Frenchman’s first Football League goal after Pompey had plucked him from Conference South with the Hawks.

Just a shame, then, that 12 Cheltenham followers dressed as Santa Claus missed that moment of class having been ejected from the ground.

Their half-time charge up the pitch created plenty of laughter, even if one of the culprits decided to pull down his trousers in the process.

Although avoiding the pedestrian pursuit of the stewards, there was no hiding place upon returning to the stands and a police statement later confirmed the dirty dozen had been gathered up and their details taken.

Up until the second half kicked off, such antics had been the most entertaining aspect of the trip to the Robins for Pompey fans.

Awford’s reshuffle saw Ben Chorley, Matt Fish, Craig Westcarr and Miles Storey dropped from the side in favour of fit-again pair Whatmough and Devera, Jed Wallace back from suspension and the recalled Atangana.

There was also a resurrection of the 4-2-3-1 system which served the Blues so well at the end of last season but has only been seen fleetingly during the current campaign.

The away contributions of Westcarr and Storey have come under increasing scrutiny and they paid the price during the re-jig.

It meant the door was opened for Atangana to operate behind lone striker Ryan Taylor as part of an attacking three, with Danny Hollands and Marcus Bean holding.

Devera came in for Fish at right-back to cast doubt on the loanee’s continued presence at Fratton Park, while the increasingly-maligned Chorley didn’t make the squad.

The opening 45 minutes proved to be a lacklustre and tight spectacle with nothing between the sides, an absence of quality in the final third and barely a whimper of goalmouth action.

On nine minutes, Hollands met Lee Holmes’ free-kick with an overhead attempt which thudded into the side netting, prompting some to initially mistake it for a goal.

Then Atangana exchanged passes with Wallace inside the area and fired in an angled shot from the left which flashed across the face of goal.

They were the sum of Pompey’s attacking capabilities, while Cheltenham netted with their first attempt on target. The impressive Craig Braham-Barrett – another former Hawks player – had already kept Wallace largely quiet from his position of left-back but he popped up further upfield to start off the move.

He fed Omari Sterling-James who was allowed into Pompey’s penalty area too easily before shooting past Paul Jones.

It was undoubtedly poor defending from the visitors and arrived only three minutes before half-time as Blues fans were forced to contemplate yet another away defeat.

Following the break, though, it was a different Pompey which returned to the field, boasting an improved intensity and a greater tempo.

They set upon the Robins from the off, forcing their opponents to drop deeper and deeper in a bid to fend them off.

Although, the key moment arose on 55 minutes – at the other end of the pitch.

Devera missed a cross-field pass from the right to allow Sterling-James a clear run on goal but Jones saved the Blues by diving to his left to keep out the shot.

It was excellent goalkeeping from the quiet man of Pompey’s squad and within 60 seconds Atangana had his leveller.

For all their second-half dominance, the visitors couldn’t carve out too many other goal-scoring opportunities as the match headed to a stalemate. Holmes did manage to strike a powerful volley late on which Carson clawed out at his near post but the spoils ended up being shared.

After two months and 16 days, Awford’s troops had finally collected a point on their travels to add to the plenty amassed at home.

A positive indeed, irrespective of the standard of the opposition they encountered on Saturday.

The Fratton faithful can only hope it is the kick-start to this spluttering season.

Watch match highlights here

Video: Match verdict

Match picture slideshow

Video: Andy Awford’s post-match comments

Santas stage pitch invasion