Peterborough United's nobodies are proving everybody wrong
There were plenty of stories in the Championship again last night. Middlesbrough’s unbeaten league record went up in flames at Nottingham Forest, who secured a 2-0 win in Steve Cotterill’s first game in charge at the City Ground. Coventry City built on their win over Forest at the weekend by snatching a very late 1-1 draw at Leeds United. Down on the south coast, leaders Southampton saw off West Ham United by a single Jos Hooiveld goal to go five points clear at the top. All fine results – but not the main headline this morning. That honour must go to Peterborough United.
Over the summer, Peterborough lost their star striker to another newly-promoted team. They gained £3million by way of compensation for the departure of Craig Mackail-Smith but barely any of it was spent. They were linked with a whole host of players that no-one else wanted and subsequently failed to agree terms with most of them. They beat off competition from nobody to sign a bunch of nobodies and they were written off. Completely. By their own fans. Very few people outside of Peterborough cared enough to write them off.
And now they are seventh, just one point off the last play-off place – occupied, strangely enough, by a team they have scored seven goals against already this season. There were seven goals at London Road last night but Cardiff scored three of them. Peterborough had two until the dying minutes. Then they scored twice.
It was all strangely familiar for Cardiff fans. The spectre of their 4-4 draw at London Road must have brought a slight chill when the goals started flying in – even with four minutes of normal time remaining, the lead in their hands and a win within reach. And then, just like they had let a 4-0 lead slip at the same venue two seasons ago, they saw it all disappear between their fingers cruelly late on.
But this isn’t really about Cardiff. They have the talent and workrate to pull off something remarkable at some stage in the season and that will be the time to wax lyrical about the Bluebirds. Let’s concentrate on Peterborough, because they might not stay 7th for long. And whether they do or not, even to be there at this stage of the season – with just over a quarter of the league campaign gone – is pretty special.
While several of Malky Mackay’s side recently had to come to terms with missing out on promotion to the top flight yet again, some Peterborough players are pinching themselves at the opportunity to turn out in the second tier. Like Craig Alcock, who was signed from Yeovil in the summer and subsequently revealed: “Playing Championship football is something I could not have dreamed of in a million years”. Like Emile Sinclair, a striker who scored 17 goals in 86 games for Macclesfield Town in League Two before some fine early season form earned him a move to London Road. Like Lee Tomlin, who spent five years with Rushden and Diamonds after being released by Leicester City.
Tomlin and Peterborough now lie three points ahead of Leicester, who must beat Watford by four goals this evening to leapfrog the Posh in the table. Tomlin’s Peterborough also sit above Mackail-Smith’s Brighton, his former strike partner Aaron McLean’s Hull and Nottingham Forest, the club that signed George Boyd on loan eighteen months ago and rejected the chance to make the move permanent. How they could do with a wide player of his quality now.
These teams could and probably should catch Peterborough, but it won’t be a certainty. Darren Ferguson has rebuilt his reputation in double-quick time and many – this correspondent included – must now eat their words. When Ferguson failed at Preston, he went back to what he knew with a return to the welcoming arms of Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony. Peterborough’s current league position is a vindication of their approach and only table-topping Southampton have scored more goals than Posh’s 24 so far this season.
Of course, expectations were heightened by that televised destruction of Ipswich. Admittedly, it does sugarcoat their goal difference. What is more impressive than the seven scored that afternoon, though, is Peterborough’s recent response to defeats. They followed their humiliation of Paul Jewell’s side with three straight defeats but then they beat Burnley with two goals from Sinclair. They followed a 1-0 defeat at West Ham with a 3-2 victory at Portsmouth thanks to a 95th-minute winner. Since then, they followed a 2-1 defeat at home to Doncaster with two wins in a row. Bristol City were seen off at Ashton Gate before Cardiff were sent back to Wales pointless last night.
People can be forgiven for thinking Peterborough would struggle in this division. Their own fans seemed largely sceptical of the side’s chances. But it is only right that words are now eaten, for Posh have proven their mettle. Goal by goal, game by game, Darren Ferguson’s bunch of nobodies are making a name for themselves.