An exciting-looking game against Andy Awford’s Portsmouth lies in store for Exeter City on the opening day of the 2014/15 Sky Bet League 2 season. Oliver Roderick takes a look at Pompey as the first League 2 side that will go face-to-face with the Grecians this term.
Portsmouth’s first season in the fourth tier of English football in 23 years culminated in a decent-looking 13th-place finish, though that was in part due to Andy Awford’s resuscitation of the team’s form in the campaign’s latter stages. Pompey’s struggles had led to the departures of two managers: Guy Whittingham left the club in late-November after seven months, and his successor, Richie Barker, was in the hotseat for an even smaller period.
Guy Whittingham’s side were handed a harsh introduction to League 2 as Oxford United stormed Fratton Park, winning 4-1 on the opening day. The club never managed to string to wins together all season until Andy Awford’s second caretaker spell, when impressively he led the team to five in a row. Both games against Exeter City were memorable: a 3-2 Pompey win at Fratton Park was followed by a late Liam Sercombe equaliser saving a point for the Grecians at a packed St James Park in February.
Two high-scoring draws – 4-4 at Bury before a 3-3 with Plymouth – were an entertaining way to finish the season, but Andy Awford will be tasked with using some of his defender’s experience to help his side keep them out in the coming campaign.
The summer so far
This season will see a new-look Portsmouth side as no fewer than 13 players departed the club at the start of May, following the conclusion of the last campaign. The first player to agree terms to join Pompey was midfielder Danny Hollands, who scored a hat-trick against Plymouth Argyle at Fratton Park on the final day of the season as his initial loan from Charlton Athletic came to an end.
Nicky Shorey, the 33-year-old full-back who earned two England caps while with Reading in 2007, signed a one-year extension to his Portsmouth contract on May 27th, while Jed Wallace, followed suit by agreeing an extra three years on his own deal. Goalkeeper Paul Jones was signed to a three-year deal after the end of his stint at Crawley, not long before defender Sonny Bradley headed in the opposite direction.
Boss Andy Awford’s recruitment drive continued when he secured the signatures of former Walsall striker Craig Westcarr and Nigel Atangana of Havant and Waterlooville, shortly before French midfielder Romain Padovani became the seventeenth player to depart Fratton Park this summer.
James Dunne and goalkeeper Michael Poke joined from Stevenage and Torquay respectively this week as Pompey’s squad appears to be taking shape ahead of the big kick-off at St James Park in August.
Andy Awford was handed a one-year rolling contract to become Portsmouth manager on a permanent basis on May 1st, following a second spell as caretaker which began when previous boss Richie Barker departed the South Coast club after less than four months in charge.
A loyal servant at Fratton Park, former defender Awford appeared over 300 times in Pompey blue between 1989 and 2000. Since retiring at the turn of the millennium, Awford has been gathering managerial experience through spells of chief scout, reserve team manager and academy manager at Portsmouth (his son Nick Awford, now in Portsmouth’s first team squad, is a product of the academy), in addition to tenures as head coach under Jim Smith at Oxford United and assistant manager at Bognor Regis Town.
Now, as the official number one at a Football League club for the first time, Awford finally has the chance to show what he can do. Winning five of his seven matches as caretaker toward the end of last season was an impressive start.
Ones to watch
New signing Craig Westcarr was a League 2 winner with Notts County in 2009/10, and after dropping down a division from Walsall, the former England Under-21 international will be looking to replicate that feat with Portsmouth this season. Former Ghana international Patrick Agyemang, meanwhile, was a part of Neil Warnock’s Championship-winning Queens Park Rangers in 2011.
Midfielder Nick Awford will be looking to make his mark at first-team level with his dad in charge, while attacker Ricky Holmes caught the eye in Portsmouth’s match at St James Park last season.
Head to head
Though this is a fixture which dates back to 1914, Exeter City and Portsmouth have only met in competitive action 20 times. Portsmouth have enjoyed the better of things with eleven wins to Exeter’s three, with the Grecians’ last win over Pompey coming way back in January 1981. City thumped Portsmouth 4-0 in the first meeting, which took place before the First World War, and also came out on top in a 4-3 thriller in 1923, but there haven’t been many other high points since as far as the Grecians are concerned. Hopefully that will change this August.
Exeter City wins: 3
Portsmouth wins: 11
A whole host of former players and managers boast both Exeter City and Portsmouth on their CVs.
Goalkeeper Paul Jones was the Grecians’ first-choice for long periods between 2005 and 2011, and became Andy Awford’s first signing as permanent Portsmouth boss in June.
World Cup winner Alan Ball was Exeter City manager in between two spells in charge of Portsmouth. He took Portsmouth to the First Division in 1987, before going down the next season, and famously led the club to a great escape amidst financial difficulties in 1997/98 during his second spell. He had precedent – he kept Exeter in the third division against the odds in 1993.
Former Wales international Richard Duffy had a disappointing five-year spell at Portsmouth, spending most of the time on loan elsewhere and making just the one appearance. His most successful period came while at Exeter City, where he was a full-choice full-back for three years before leaving for Port Vale, where he still is today.
Defender Scott Hiley came through the Grecians’ youth system and had seven successful years at SJP before leaving for Birmingham City. Six years later he signed on at Portsmouth, from where he was sent on loan back to Exeter in 2002 before completing his return to Devon on a permanent basis later that year. Winger Martin Phillips enjoyed a similar career trajectory, coming through at Exeter, returning on loan four years after leaving and then heading to Fratton Park.
Other links between the two clubs include former City manager Noel Blake, Jason Rees, Vince Hilaire, Lee Sharpe, Jon Gittens, Andy Gosney, Keith Viney, James Dunne, Lee Bradbury and Mark Chamberlain, father of Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Exeter City 1-1 Portsmouth, St James Park, Saturday 8th February 2014
A packed house looked on as Liam Sercombe rescued a point for Exeter City right at the death as the Grecians drew 1-1 with Portsmouth at St James Park.
Jake Jervis side-footed Pompey in front in the first half, and the away side had for a long time looked like heading back to the South Coast with what would have been a rare three points after an open second period. But Sercombe had other plans, as his deflected effort at the end of second-half injury time saved the draw.
Portsmouth are joint third-favourites to win the Sky Bet League 2 title this season at odds of 10/1
Pompey’s odds for promotion are 9/4
, while there is a 14/1
chance of relegation according to the league’s official sponsors.
As far as the opening day goes, Andy Awford’s side are rated at 11/8
to get their campaign underway with a win at St James Park on August 9th, with the Grecians at 13/8
and the draw at 23/10