Bury 4 Pompey 4

Wes Fogden celebrates. Picture: Joe Pepler
Wes Fogden celebrates. Picture: Joe Pepler

Make no mistake, this was Andy Awford’s day.

Granted, there will be worthy references to the Pompey players’ remarkable spirit, guts and determination in the face of anticipated defeat.

Certainly, the Gigg Lane crowd recognised such a contribution, applauding off the opposition as they left the field.

The record books will forever reflect a 4-4 draw between two mid-table League Two sides, papering over the cracks on many fronts for the Blues.

Truth be told, Pompey were poor for long, long spells, while Bury were the better side possessing unquestionably the outstanding players on the day in Hallam Hope and David Mayor.

Bar the final eight minutes, it was tremendously disappointing from a side heading into the penultimate match on the back of five successive minutes.

Some of the travelling support had even left after 81 minutes with the scoreline 3-1 to the Shakers, among them familiar Fratton Park figure Roger Higgins.

How those 20 cyclists who had earlier arrived at the stadium to a wonderful reception must have been itching to drag their aching bodies onto the saddle one final time, this time destination south coast.

In fairness, the visitors were infinitely improved following the interval.

Trailing by two goals, Awford brought on Adam Webster for Johnny Ertl, with Danny East pushing up into midfield as he sought a way back.

By the 78th minute, all three substitutions had been made with the scoreline at 3-1, Sonny Bradley and Patrick Agyemang thrown up front to create a highly-attacking line-up.

No damage limitation for the caretaker boss, this was an all-out assault to get something out of a fixture seemingly well out of their reach.

To think at Rochdale, Richie Barker’s final match at the helm, only one substitute was used during that 3-0 defeat which would prove to be such a turning point.

Awford’s era has been one of positivity and freedom of expression, reflected in his approach at Gigg Lane during that second half.

The fact Bradley was employed as an emergency centre forward also displayed imagination which caught many of those present by surprise, not least the tannoy announcer who introduced him as Jack Whatmough.

Even as a fading Pompey figure these days, Jake Jervis must have been alarmed at a central defender alongside him on the bench given the nod ahead of a natural striker.

Still, that decision would ultimately prove to be inspired during that miraculous fightback.

No wonder as he walked off the pitch having applauded the visiting supporters who had stayed, Awford looked up to the directors’ box and with a big smile mimed penning a contract.

Not that the on-looking Iain McInnes, Ashley Brown and Mark Trapani needed to be told, they will have him in place as their new boss during the coming days.

Awford has repeatedly stated that credit for the Blues’ emergence under his charge should go entirely to the players who have performed so admirably on the pitch.

Well on Saturday it was time for him to take a bow, having displayed he is not merely a tub-thumping motivator, there is clearly so much more to him as a manager.

Trevor Carson would later echo such sentiments during his post-match interview with The News, admitting some players after the game insisted to the caretaker boss it was time he took praise for the achievements of the last month.

Undoubtedly when the obvious occurs and Awford is given the job permanently, he will already have next season’s plans ready to put into motion.

The future of the aforementioned Carson will of course be high on the list, as the keeper waits to learn whether he will win a permanent deal at the season’s end.

Similarly, of those who featured on Saturday, Nicky Shorey, Bondz N’Gala, Danny Hollands, Adam Webster and Jed Wallace are also out of contract this summer.

But such on-going issues can wait for the time being, more reflection is needed on a truly memorable Gigg Lane occasion, albeit more for the late drama than anything.

There were five changes made to the team which won at Northampton, among them Ben Chorley returning following a six-game absence to partner the recalled N’Gala in centre defence.

The duo, however, struggled badly in the opening 45 minutes as Hope ran riot to make light of the absence of suspended top-scorer Daniel Nardiello.

Bury would take the lead after only nine minutes when a ball was delivered into the box from the right and flicked on by Clive Platt.

Hope was there ahead of N’Gala to steer the ball into the top corner of the net, capping a bright start from the hosts.

The 20-year-old bagged his second on 34 minutes.

Tom Soares helped the ball through and he had time to lash an angled shot past Carson.

On 49 minutes it was 3-0 when Mayor left Webster in a spin before crossing from the left.

Substitute Andy Procter was in the right place to net with a diving header.

Then Hollands pulled one back with a close-range finish after a 53rd minute corner wasn’t cleared.

Going into the 82nd minute, the visitors were still 3-1 down.

But striker Ryan Taylor squeezed home a shot to further reduce the deficit.

The fight was on, yet Hope recorded his hat-trick on 86 minutes following more good work from the talented Mayor.

That appeared to be fightback over for Awford’s men but within 60 seconds Pompey had another one after Hollands’ long throw sparked chaos.

Bradley was in the thick of the action causing problems inside the six-yard box, although Pablo Mills applied to decisive touch for an own goal.

The belief was back, the Fratton faithful roared them on – then came the improbable leveller.

Hollands’ long throw from the right prompted another melee, keeper Brian Jensen missed his punch and Fogden was there to score from close range.

A sensational finish to a game during a season with a magnificent ending – and it’s all down to Awford.

Forget the self-modesty, it has been an outstanding performance from the caretaker boss over the last six matches. And his reward is to be named as manager.