Bluffer's guide to the play-offs: Peterborough United
The Posh recovered from an inconsistent start to the season by piling the pressure onto Brighton, Southampton and Huddersfield during a strong New Year in League One. John Verrall assesses Darren Ferguson’s chances of a third promotion at London Road.
Feeling confident? How’s your form?
I don’t know about confident. I’m fairly optimistic. I believe we have the ability to win these playoffs. We can outscore every team in this division, however, our season has been plagued with inconsistency and our defensive record is very poor – even if we were to win the first leg 3-0 you wouldn’t feel entirely confident that we could hold on. Anyway, is it possible to feel confident going into the playoffs? One dodgy refereeing decision can cost you promotion.
As for our form, it’s patchy. Whilst the optimist would point towards the fact we’ve only lost two of our last 18 matches, the pessimist will tell you that we’ve only won three of our last 10. We’ve also developed a worrying habit of conceding late goals, which is something we really can’t afford to do during these games.
Up to now, would you judge your season so far as a success or did you have an eye on the automatic spots?
I’d be lying if I said that we didn’t have one eye on the automatics this year but, realistically, getting into the playoffs would have meant we’d had a successful season. We had a chance of making the top 2 until the last few games of the season but Brighton and Southampton were particularly strong this year. I’m sure they’ll compete in the Championship without a problem.
At the point when Gary Johnson left the club, I think any Posh fan would have taken a shot in the playoffs. Our form was beginning to look particularly poor and performances were less than inspiring, but Ferguson’s return has boosted the squad and we have improved as a result.
Did you have the upper hand over your semi-final opponents in the games you’ve played against them already this season?
We won 2-1 at home and lost 1-0 away. It’s perfectly set up. In truth we should have won the away game, as we missed a number of guilt edge chances, but MK Dons defended resiliently and took their chances. I expect it to be very close.
Do you think your players have a big-game mentality? Will they step up?
In terms of promotion, we have plenty who have experienced it before. Yet our squad is a relatively young one. As I mentioned earlier we have developed a worrying habit of conceding late goals and Ferguson has been critical of the mentality of the squad since his arrival here. However, we put in two of our best performances of the season away at Huddersfield and at home to Southampton. The truth is I don’t think we know how the squad will react until they are actually put in the situation.
Who will be your key man?
Joe Lewis. Whilst many will point towards Mackail-Smith’s goalscoring record, which will of course be important, Lewis really cannot afford to make an error on this stage. Every lower league fan has seen his proneness to mistakes, which has seen him labelled “Jomes” by many Posh fans, but he also can be an excellent ‘keeper on his day. It may well depend on which version of him turns up that decides how well we do.
Who is the semi-final opposition’s dangerman?
Sam Baldock is a real threat up-front but Gary McKenzie at centre back has been a rock both times we have played them this season. He has dealt with Mackail-Smith’s threat well and was man of the match when we faced them at Stadium MK. MK Dons will know they have a chance against us if they can stop our attack.
If you get through, who would you prefer in the final?
Bournemouth. It’s an obvious answer but they are not as good a side as Huddersfield. Of course the underdog can be dangerous and we would be stupid to be complacent but if played to our maximum potential I think we’d have enough quality in our squad to beat them.
Who’s going to score your winning goal in the final…?
Getting a bit ahead of ourselves here! If it’s going to be anyone though it’ll be Mackail-Smith. The script is set for him to do it. To score his last goal for us on this stage would be the ideal send off for a player who has been brilliant ever since his arrival. It’s just a shame we are losing him in the summer.