Pompey 1 Hartlepool 0

Adam Webster gives Pompey the lead in the second minute Picture: Barry Zee
Adam Webster gives Pompey the lead in the second minute Picture: Barry Zee
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Andy Awford lingered pitchside to shake the hand of each of his outstanding troops as they left the Fratton Park pitch.

Reminiscent of the lollipop man ensuring the last of the school children have safely crossed the road before leaving his post for the day.

Once the path was clear he strode purposely forward, applauding the Fratton end before exploding into a glorious uppercut.

His arm thrust skywards in triumph, fist clenched, as he unleashed a ferocious roar.

In that one moment, Awford effortlessly outclassed Barry Harris’ traditional victory party piece.

More importantly, the caretaker boss demonstrated the passion and fighting spirit he has induced into the Blues players during a mere nine days in charge.

Richie Barker was accused by many of never fully comprehending the Pompey mentality during his ill-fated 109 days at the helm.

His replacement – until the end of the season at the very least – does not suffer from such a crucial detraction.

Those 261 people present at the Hall of Fame event the previous evening were treated to a goose bump-inducing speech from Awford.

A magnificent rallying cry which had the floor straining to be led into battle by the man armed with a microphone standing in front of them.

Skipper Simon Ferry would later reveal the manager addressed the players in similar inspirational fashion before their exit from the dressing room to face Hartlepool on Saturday.

Subsequently, the team would produce an impressive 1-0 victory infinitely more comfortable than the scoreline suggests on paper.

And come the final whistle there Awford was, punching the air with unshackled glee, having masterminded two wins out of two to ignite Pompey’s charge away from the League Two relegation zone.

It meant as much to him as every single one of those 15,000-plus home fans in attendance on one of those special days Fratton Park is capable of conjuring up.

‘We are staying up’ came the chorus moments earlier to cap an emotionally-charged occasion which began with a classy tribute to Jack Robinson before kick-off.

The plight of the Denmead youngster who passed away on Tuesday has touched the community and on Saturday his twin brother, Liam, released a balloon into the sky from the Pompey pitch.

Then came a minute’s applause, followed by a vibrant, passionate team performance amid a season’s best atmosphere provided by the Fratton faithful.

The first 10 minutes and the second half were spine-tingling at times as the famous old ground found its voice and intimidation to recreate the wall of noise so talked about in the build-up to Pools’ visit.

Not forgetting the tremendously-received half-time introduction of Blues favourites of yesteryear Noel Blake, Nicky Jennings, Eoin Hand and Dave Munks.

Oh yes, Saturday was indeed special.

At the epicentre of it was a team playing with heart and desire sadly absent for so much of the season, irrespective of who the manager in charge was.

Hartlepool were beaten, well beaten, and made to appear one of the poorest sides who have visited this season.

The hosts should have been out of sight in the first half, but perhaps such criticism is rather churlish considering the quality of their overall performance.

Awford had even sprung two surprises in the starting line-up, throwing in Adam Webster and Simon Ferry for shock returns to the first-team.

Injury to Daniel Alfei in training on Thursday had prompted Webster to be come back from his loan spell at Aldershot, with Pompey invoking a 24-hour recall clause.

Meanwhile, Ferry was back in midfield and as captain, after 14 matches absent through his persistent back problem.

The caretaker boss did, though, retain his 4-2-3-1 system which paid dividends at Newport County with that precious win the week before.

To think early in Barker’s reign the crowd chanted 4-4-2 when he attempted a similar formation, while he had been criticised on occasions for changing a winning team.

On Saturday, there was not a murmur of such protests as the match unfolded.

Proof again how Awford’s rich history with the club has earned him the fans’ trust and respect – something Barker never possessed during his 20 matches in charge.

It fits, it feels right, and the interim boss is motivating a team with undoubted talent to play winning and entertaining football, with plenty of bite to it also.

The perfect start inevitably helped the occasion as Webster netted just 82 seconds in to capitalise on the magnificent atmosphere generated at the game’s beginning.

Ricky Holmes delivered a free-kick from the left, Ryan Taylor’s far-post header was parried by the keeper and there was the Pompey youngster to bundle it home from close range.

Come the fourth minute and the superb Wes Fogden’s industry and battling qualities saw him win a penalty following a ridiculous challenge by Christian Burgess.

Up stepped Taylor, successful in his previous two spot-kicks, only for Andy Rafferty to produce an excellent save to his right. Holmes skyed the follow-up over the bar.

Hartlepool were shell-shocked and Awford’s men continued to boss the match, even if Rafferty was not called upon to make too many more saves.

Boosted by the patience such an early lead delivers, the hosts confidently maintained possession, knocked the ball around and dominated proceedings – much to the appreciation of their Pompey followers.

A back four consisting of two teenagers in Webster and the ever-impressive Jack Whatmough ensured Colin Cooper’s side failed to muster a single shot on target.

Yet to a man the players shone, with Johnny Ertl also giving a late cameo from the bench with some essential headers, tackles and blocks.

And then there was Awford. How the fans chanted his name and called on him to wave – Fratton Park was vibrant and unified in its support for the man in charge.

Many of Pompey’s rivals also won on Saturday to ensure the cushion above the relegation zone remains five points.

But under Awford they have the drive, passion and the fans’ belief this club will survive. Again.