Pompey 3 Bristol Rovers 2

Wes Fogden pokes home the winner. Picture: Joe Pepler
Wes Fogden pokes home the winner. Picture: Joe Pepler
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Not quite time to put up the bunting, unfurl the flags and rain down the ticker tape.

Even if Southampton fans did kindly hang out the banner high over Fratton Park.

Pompey have remarkably avoided relegation with three matches remaining, even if mathematically it doesn’t quite yet add up.

It would take a truly incredible sequence of results involving 10 other struggling clubs to spoil the celebrations currently on ice.

Even defeat at Northampton today could end up securing their League Two presence next season if either Wycombe Wanderers or Bristol Rovers lose.

But let’s not look at this negatively, a point at Sixfields would achieve the same outcome, as would a fifth successive triumph.

To think after a 3-0 loss at Rochdale on March 25, the Blues were out of the relegation zone purely courtesy of goals scored.

Then came Sammy Moore’s last-gasp leveller for AFC Wimbledon in the match still being played at Northampton and the cushion that same night was suddenly elevated to two points.

On Saturday evening – four fixtures later – Pompey were residing in 14th place, all but secure from relegation into non-league football.

What an outstanding job Andy Awford has performed in a caretaker capacity as he heads towards being handed the role on a permanent basis.

Predecessor Richie Barker served up four wins during his 20 matches in charge before departing within days of that Spotland seasonal low. Awford has now collected the same number of wins having totalled one fewer goal – in a mere four matches.

Forget reflecting on a honeymoon period or beginners’ luck, the Pompey Academy boss has magnificently transformed this confidence-shot squad that was heading out of the Football League.

A trip to Northampton was perceived as a six-pointer several weeks back.

Now win, lose or draw at Sixfields, Pompey are set to be safe from the drop.

Never has a rendition of ‘We are staying up’ been sung with such hearty conviction, albeit without cast-iron certainty, than at Fratton Park on Saturday.

Bristol Rovers defeated 3-2, a dagger into the stomach of one of their nearest rivals and the Blues are almost there – within touching distance.

There were some remarkable sights at the final whistle, not least chairman Iain McInnes bearhugging Mark Catlin before lifting him off his feet in triumph within the directors’ box.

Moments later he called up to the press box and delivered an uppercut into the air accompanied by clenched fist as once again emotion overspilled.

The second-highest crowd of the campaign –17,998 –were in attendance for this fixture, which also formed the anniversary of the club being taken over by the fans.

Trevor Birch, a man so improbably highly thought of considering his profession as administrator, was also a Fratton Park guest on Saturday.

They all witnessed Pompey stride towards the brink of safety – and Awford taking another step to becoming the Blues’ next boss.

The club needed heroes to be created during the final seven matches of the season if they were to have any chance of remaining in the division against worsening odds.

There are plenty of those out on the pitch at present whose contributions during this run can soon be ranked alongside the likes of John Durnin, Steve Claridge and Pedro Mendes in Pompey folklore.

This group of players had been written off and given up on by Barker – with the exception of Danny Hollands, who arrived the day of his exit.

Now Ricky Holmes, Jed Wallace and Adam Webster in particular have emerged as crucial figures in this improbable battle against relegation.

Throw in mainstays Trevor Carson and Nicky Shorey, while positional changes for Jack Whatmough and Wes Fogden have also proved beneficial under Awford’s charge.

Then there’s Ryan Taylor, who contributed a debatable goal and two assists against the fierce rivals of former club Bristol City. To think the entire back five who lined up against Oxford for the opening match of the season under Guy Whittingham now cannot break into the side.

Interestingly, they were all present in a 16-man training session held on the Fratton Park pitch after Saturday’s game – another reflection of the alarming size of the current squad.

Still, against Darrell Clarke’s men, Awford opted to bring back fit-again Adam Webster for Daniel Alfei, with Rhys McCabe replacing the injured Simon Ferry.

Surprisingly, Ben Chorley didn’t manage to make the 18-man squad despite returning from a four-game ban, indicative of the caretaker boss’ high regard for Whatmough and Bondz N’Gala at present.

It took just 11 minutes for the home side to break the deadlock – the goal instigated by an initial cross from the left by Taylor.

The ball found its way to Webster 20 yards from goal and his first-time left-foot shot may not have been clean but it possessed excellent accuracy to find the bottom corner.

On 22 minutes, Matt Harrold levelled when his hopeful shot from long range struck N’Gala to wrong-foot Carson and, despite the keeper getting his hands to it, sneaked over the line.

Rovers certainly were not reflecting their status as the worst away side in all four divisions and Carson had to save brilliantly from Michael Smith and then use his legs to deny Dave Clarkson.

Meanwhile, Hollands headed against his own bar from a corner to spark more nerves among the home faithful.

Yet on 40 minutes a clever corner saw Holmes feed Hollands and his drive was deflected home, with Taylor claiming the final touch.

Within a minute, a quick throw was sent to Fabian Broghammer whose cross from the left was headed home by an unmarked Harrold.

Squared 2-2 at half-time, Pompey returned to the field to dominate the second-half, with Holmes the fulcrum.

And on 70 minutes it was his cross from the left that was headed back across goal by Taylor and there was substitute Fogden to poke it home.

So victory number four for Awford during this stunning turnaround which has all but kept the club up.

That Southampton banner read: ‘Always looking up at us.’

Don’t flatter yourselves. The only way is up for all connected with Pompey at present having a month ago feared the biggest down yet.