By Dan Brett
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As the season draws to a close, and Pompey's first season without relegation in three years now secured, it's time to start planning for next season.
Andy Awford has pulled up trees in his attempts to keep the club in the Football League, and with five wins and one draw to his name, the former Blues captain has transformed the club beyond recognition from their early-season slump.
Stints under Guy Whittingham and Richie Barker had left the Fratton Faithful fearing demotion out of the fourth tier, with both bosses failing to muster back-to-back league wins and consistent performances.
But under Awford, the Blues have been formidable against sides at both ends of the League Two table—helping to rubber-stamp his permanent place in the Fratton Park hot seat.
Plenty are pointing questions towards the new gaffer regarding his long-term future, with a growing number casting similarities between Awford's potential reign and how the sword fell on club legend Whittingham.
The former full-back has had a telling impact on improving the club's youth side over the last three years, so his absence in that role is enough of a loss for the club - without the potential of losing Awford permanently if his tenure fails to live up to his recent six-match undefeated haul.
As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg once said: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk... In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” Time will tell on which way Pompey's risk will go.
Saturday's season-closing match at home to Plymouth Argyle could propel the side into a ninth-placed league finish – far cry from the realms of the bottom half of the table that PO4 fans have become accustomed to over recent seasons
A sell-out, with many fans looking to pay tribute to Awford in the customary 'lap of honour', as well as those players who have stepped up to the mark in recent weeks and helped to arrest Pompey's sorry run of form.
Momentum is key for football, as is belief. Going into this season, Whittingham had the confidence but he certainly did not have the momentum. Guy's appointment just four days after the convincing 3-0 home win over
Sheffield United was then met by a 3-2 defeat at Shrewsbury on the final day.
That, plus Whittingham's need to assemble a football team over the summer won't have helped his cause, as he has had to bring in players ranging from Premier League drop-outs to non-league talent, and then blend them together to mould a side that could compete in League Two.
Stability was this season's aim, according to a recent interview by chief executive Mark Catlin, so perhaps early-season expectations told on Whittingham's tenure as manager.
However, Awford's potential stewardship has shown not only fans—but the board—that he's capable of leaving a legacy in his full-time stint as manager.
Awford's credentials in two stints as caretaker manager this season will have gone some way to easing the board's decision, knowing that he's got plenty of experience not only dealing in management in the club's youth capacity, but also nurturing Pompey's stars of tomorrow.
Adam Webster, Ashley Harris, Dan Butler and Jack Maloney have all come through the youth ranks at the Blues, and despite Harris and Maloney awaiting contract talks, the quartet could have an important role to play next season.
That, coupled with the rise of Jed Wallace, who has yet to cement his place at Pompey—nor any other club—for next season. The Blues could face a better chance of keeping the tricky winger under the belief of Awford, unless a big-name club try to pry for his services.
Speaking with the gaffer after the home win against Bristol Rovers, it was clear that Awford has friends across the football spectrum – paying particular tribute to relationships with Northampton boss Chris Wilder and Rovers manager Darrell Clarke.
And with 'keeper Trevor Carson assigning his desire to stay at Pompey—under Awford—next season, it's clear that the players also have full belief that the club could be on the brink of something special next season.
Perhaps we'll go into next season with little expectation, giving the manager time to grow into the role, unlike the result-driven sacking of Whittingham.
The club, the manager, the players and the fans will be wearing the scars of this season, and the board have acted quickly to turn around the club's long-term future with an appointment of longevity.
Dan Brett is a freelance News and Sport journalist. You can follow him @DanBrett90
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