The Fogden hole Pompey have not filled

Wes Fogden, centre, is mobbed by his Pompey team-mates after scoring the winner against Bristol Rovers last season ' a goal that helped the Blues avoid relegation from the Football League Picture: Joe Pepler
Wes Fogden, centre, is mobbed by his Pompey team-mates after scoring the winner against Bristol Rovers last season ' a goal that helped the Blues avoid relegation from the Football League Picture: Joe Pepler

The large photo of Wes Fogden still adorns the right-hand corner of Dean Court’s main stand.

It depicts the midfielder spectacularly netting with a curling left-foot shot from 25 yards against Brentford.

The only goal of the game, that March 2012 strike halted a seven-game winless run for Lee Bradbury’s side.

A source of much pride for then-owner Eddie Mitchell, who previously had Fogden at Dorchester, before overseeing his Cherries arrival.

Manager, chairman and goalscorer that day have long departed that particular corner of Dorset, yet it is testimony to the timeless popularity of Fogden his portrait still remains.

Such has been the Cherries’ remarkable breakneck progress, his absence, prompted by a January 2014 switch to Pompey, has never truly been mourned. They have strengthened and moved on.

But for the Fratton faithful, as the current campaign stutters on, his lack of involvement has certainly been noticed.

Knee ligament damage sustained fours days before the Blues’ first pre-season fixture last summer continues to sideline the 26-year-old.

Those who witnessed the decisive moment describe it as a freak. Fogden challenged for a ball in the air before landing awkwardly, with no suggestion of contact with a team-mate.

Having initially kept it under wraps, come Saturday, July 12, he was notably missing from Andy Awford’s 26-man squad for a friendly at the Hawks – along with the injured Tom Craddock and out-of-favour David Connolly.

Awford wore a brave face that day, speaking positively and enthusing about ‘being like a brand new player for us’ upon his return, albeit skipping around questions on time frames.

Encouragingly, Fogden – who is out of contract in the summer – this week returned to outside running under the supervision of the medical team.

That progress has prompted Awford to predict the midfielder could be involved in some training sessions before the end of February.

Bright news on a player who made such a crucial contribution in Pompey’s successful fight against relegation from the Football League last term.

In the ensuing six months since being grounded by his injury, we have perhaps come to learn that contribution has actually been underestimated. He was the catalyst.

Fogden’s enforced absence from Awford’s plans has demonstrated he was actually far more integral to Pompey successfully reaping those results than many of us considered, particularly in that 4-2-3-1 system.

What has become glaringly obvious is they are a better team with him included, with nobody so far able to replicate his strengths.

Awford has gone on record to admit the former Hawks man was going to start the first match of the current campaign at Exeter before injury struck.

Despite signing eight players in the summer and turning Danny Hollands’ loan into a permanent stay, he would have stuck with one of his most influential performers.

The manager’s blueprint was the 4-2-3-1 system which served so outstandingly for the final seven matches of the previous season, a formation which also brought the best out of Fogden.

Recruited by former Blues boss Richie Barker, he was largely instructed to play on the right flank.

Granted, room for his boundless energy to thrive, yet he is not a natural winger capable of delivering a steady stream of crosses.

Under closer scrutiny, match analysis would highlight this problem, raising the question of where Fogden would perform most effectively.

His talent, enthusiasm and work-rate could not be criticised, a will-o’-the-wisp on Red Bull who fizzed and crackled, invigorating both team-mates and supporters, becoming an instant hit.

A throw-back to the ever-popular Gary O’Neil in terms of approach and stature, yet his scurrying and scampering style was indeed unique.

The energy required channelling, however, and in Awford’s first match in caretaker charge after Barker’s departure, he was asked to operate in a hole behind a lone striker in an attacking midfield three.

Fogden would appear in six of those subsequent seven fixtures, with a knee injury ruling him out of action for the memorable 4-1 demolition of Dagenham & Redbridge.

His pressing game and tireless energy levels enabled Awford’s side to operate with a high-tempo approach, closing defenders down up the pitch and forcing mistakes.

It breathed new life into the team as the Blues secured safety with an improbable three matches to spare.

Along that path Fogden was crowned man of the match in the 1-0 victory against Hartlepool and, such was his commitment, was unable to carry about press duties afterwards as he raced off to a Cowplain dentist.

The midfielder had dislodged a front tooth. He also damaged ligaments in his knee – having entered the game as a doubt with a tight hamstring. He lasted 86 minutes.

After missing the Daggers fixture, he appeared as a substitute for Michael Drennan in the vital relegation battle with Bristol Rovers, netting the winner in a 3-2 success.

Then two matches later there was the injury-time equaliser in the 4-4 draw at Bury as Awford’s men produced a stunning fightback from 4-2 down with 88 minutes gone.

Fogden recently politely declined an interview with The News on the grounds he feels uncomfortable talking about potential comeback dates when he is not yet there.

It is entirely understandable from the ex-Brighton trainee, keen to focus on his recovery rather than raising fans’ hopes with bold words.

So we all wish him well in his on-going rehabilitation.

How Pompey have missed their Tasmanian Devil.