24: Season Review, Part Four: NOT to PRE
Wound licking aplenty with two relegated clubs, a mid table mediocrity and a last ditch non-promotee under scrutiny. For Plymouth and Peterborough, 09-10 was galling, the latter in particular seeing ascent through the divisions crumble into dust within a few short months. Forest will be smarting still, but their narrow failure might prove to be a necessary check to a process of encouraging evolution.
Just two seasons at this level and Nottingham Forest are now re-established as Championship royalty. DJ Campbell may have made soup of their promotion ambitions, but a squad that was 90% good enough now have the opportunity to build on a superb return to the front pages.
Billy Davies spent widely but wisely in the Summer and a number of players excelled. Paul Anderson’s mazy dribbling was a feature of the Trentsiders’ Autumn in particular, Radosław Majewski was a midfield metronome and Chris Gunter a thoroughbred at full back. But it was the fate of two other crucial cogs that led to Forest’s downfall: Paul McKenna was tenacious all year and Nicky Shorey filled a gaping hole at left back for a few games at the peak of the side’s winter parade. That didn’t last as the former succumbed to injury; the latter to Roy Hodgson. The mid season form that had seen them paste local rivals Leicester 5-1 and QPR 5-0 and triumph 3-1 at the Hawthorns deserted them as their grim tendency to feel queasy on the road did not ameliorate.
But Forest missed out in promotion from the lower tier at the hands of Yeovil a few years’ back and a man recruited from their conquerors Chris Cohen serves notice of how a team can come back stronger. In a season of conspicuous success only the forwards David McGoldrick and Dele Adebola failed to justify their pay packets. The East Midland Reds are already regrouping.
Final League Position: 3
Our Pre-season Prediction: 7
Marks out of 10: 8
TTU Player of the Year: Paul McKenna
In possession of a dynamic three pronged strike force and the confidence that comes from two promotions, as well as a city that could have the potential to host a higher level of football than it has been accustomed to, there was much optimism around London Road In August. But those in control of Peterborough United took out a very large musket, pointed it downwards and proceeded to blast it straight at their own toes.
Darren Ferguson, the dominant personality in today’s segment of seasonal reminiscence, was sent packing way earlier than he should have been. True, Posh’s start was poor, but not that bad. A team of lower division scrappers did find it hard going but the front trio of Craig Mackail-Smith, Aaron McLean and George Boyd in particular all looked the part and if new recruit from Hereford, Toumani Diagouraga looked immediately out of his depth, there was surely no need to panic.
But panic they did. Darragh MacAnthony’s absences became longer and Barry Fry became a parody of even his absurd self in Football League Show cameos. Successive managers failed to pacify the increasingly disgruntled front men and Ferguson was followed into the job by Mark Cooper, Jim Gannon and Gary Johnson, a whole new team of players by May, and swift repatriation to League One.
Final League Position: 24
Our Pre-season Prediction: 5
Marks out of 10: 1
TTU Player of the Year: Craig Mackail-Smith
If Peterborough United’s season was a case of crash and burn, the occupants of the table’s penultimate spot seemed destined for relegation from very early on and a winless 9 game start. The sheer lack of inspiration in the Plymouth Argyle ranks was tangible, a lack of pace throughout the side and a cabbage patch of a surface doing nothing to hoist events at Home Park beyond the humdrum. Wins when they came were of the stolen variety – both Cardiff and Middlesbrough succumbed to sucker punches on home turf – as the stultifying Sturrock years drew to a close.
Argyle were not helped by wage bill supplements paid to those cast into the wilderness: Alan Gow, Steve McLean and, most famously, Marcel Seip along them. Such obvious signs of bad man management led to Paul Mariner being called upon from his stateside retreat, first alongside the rotund Scot and then to replace him.
Improved organization became apparent with Kári Árnason and Réda Johnson showing glimpses of raw talent, but previous dependables Jamie Mackie and Alan Judge suffered alarming losses of form and the hierarchy were slow to recognize fresh faces when they were sorely needed: buzzcutted Craig Noone and Joe Mason should have been given more opportunities. Mariner, clearly unimpressed with the cards he had been dealt, called it a day as Peterborough heaped misery upon misery on the final afternoon.
Final League Position: 23
Our Pre-season Prediction: 19
Marks out of 10: 2
TTU Player of the Year: Kári Árnason
Preston North End
Preston appear to have been a mid table side in this division since Dinosaurs walked the earth and indeed, Jon Parkin and Neil Mellor invite many a comparison with the Jurassic era. We forget, however, that the lilywhites made it to the play offs twelve months ago. How distant those days seem now.
Criminally, decade long captain and midfield tiger Paul McKenna was allowed to wander to Forest in the wake of that Bladed defeat. Such lynchpins are not ten a penny and a lack of midfield steel was to cost Alan Irvine his job. Linked with West Bromwich Albion just a Summer previously, the Scotsman fell in the flurry of sackings of the late Autumn. The Sean St. Ledger fiasco was another blight on PNE: you’ll recall that the gobby defender was supposed to net the club a neat £4.5million – that was until Middlesbrough realised he was just too irritating to give house room.
On the pitch, things got steadily worse and North End are now seriously downwardly mobile. Darren Ferguson did little to enhance his dimming reputation after joining in the gaffers’ merry-go-round, Danny Welbeck did a Freddie Sears, and the season ended with a hiding at Reading.
Final League Position: 17
Our Pre-season Prediction: 8
Marks out of 10: 4
TTU Player of the Year: Ross Wallace