Posh positive despite demotion
Arguably, no team in the Football League had more confidence, momentum, hope and expectation this time last year than Peterborough United.
After two straight promotions, Posh were gearing up for only their third ever season in the second tier of English football. They had everything that lower league clubs wanted: an ambitious chairman, a talented young manager, a goalkeeper who had been called up to the senior England side, a solid defence, a creative midfield and a deadly strike force. They were, in many ways, the envy of the Football League.
Then it all went wrong…
After a terrible start to the season, Posh fans realised they were in for a long, hard and ultimately disappointing campaign. Darren Ferguson’s team collected just 11 points from their first 16 games and a 3-1 defeat against Newcastle saw Ferguson and Posh part company.
Mystery still surrounds the reason why the man who led Posh from League Two to the Championship left his post. Peterborough say he wasn’t sacked. Ferguson says he was. Either way, it left Posh in trouble.
The brief Cooper era…
Darragh MacAnthony, the Peterborough chairman, and Barry Fry, his notoriously outspoken Director of Football, chose Kettering Town’s Mark Cooper as Ferguson’s replacement. Posh fans were underwhelmed but prepared to give Cooper a chance. After all, Ferguson had no previous managerial experience when he arrived at London Road, so there was good reason to trust MacAnthony’s judgment.
Cooper managed to pick up a measly seven points in 11 games, including only one victory. His best result was considered to be a 4-4 draw with Cardiff City in which Peterborough were 4-0 down at half time after what Posh fans described as “the worst first half ever played by a Posh side”.
This soon turned to complete elation as Posh snatched the unlikeliest of draws. However, Cooper was unable to summon any momentum from this miraculous comeback and was dismissed at the start of February.
…and the even briefer Gannon era
So Fry and MacAnthony again started their hunt for a new man and former Stockport and Motherwell boss Jim Gannon was given the nod until the end of the season. Gannon did extremely well to breathe life into a poor Posh side which suffered from a series of player departures.
Young Scottish star Paul Coutts joined his former boss Ferguson at Preston North End, while left back Tommy Williams was sent out on loan to QPR. Midfielder Toumani Diagouraga was loaned to Brentford, Russell Martin was shipped to Norwich and Shaun Batt went to Millwall, where he helped the Lions to promotion from League One via the play-offs.
Midfielder Chris Whelpdale and defender Gabriel Zakuani struggled with injuries throughout the season, but the hardest thing of all for the supporters to swallow was the break-up of their “holy trinity”.
Striker Aaron McLean stated he was unhappy and requested to be placed on the transfer list, winger George Boyd went on loan to Nottingham Forest and fans favourite Craig Mackail-Smith was often dropped by Gannon, who insisted “he doesn’t fit my system”.
The lack of first team players meant Gannon resorted to youth team players and the loan market. MacAnthony’s vision of a competitive Championship outfit had gone horribly wrong.
A season of hope and excitement turned into a living nightmare. Managers came and went, the talented squad seemed suddenly to be full of youth teamers, the stars were unhappy and relegation was confirmed.
Gannon was offered a full time deal by Peterborough but turned it down due to family commitments. This meant that Fry and MacAnthony were searching for their fourth manager in one season.
Former Yeovil Town and Bristol City boss Gary Johnson was handed the job to the delight of Posh fans. Johnson finished the season with a 2-1 win over fellow relegated side Plymouth Argyle, saying he knew which players he would want the following season.
Peterborough’s pre-season preparation has now begun and suddenly the immediate future looks bright once more. Johnson has already bought in seven new players including midfielders Grant McCann and James Wesolowski.
The biggest positive with regard to players, however, will be the commitment of stars Zakuani, Boyd, Mackail-Smith, McLean and goalkeeper Joe Lewis. All five have recently re-affirmed their commitment to returning Posh to the Championship at the first attempt.
Lewis, 22, impressed pundits, fans and scouts alike with some stunning performances last season. Harry Redknapp declared himself to be impressed when Peterborough visited Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup third round, saying:
“[Lewis] was superb. He made five or six world class saves and if it wasn’t for him, today would have been a cricket score”
Zakuani, still young for a centre-back at 24 years of age, was a key member of Peterborough’s League One promotion campaign and is known for his aggressive defending. Of course, the trio of Boyd, McLean and Mackail-Smith have been instrumental to Posh in recent years, scoring an amazing 177 times between them in the three and a half seasons they have been at the club.
The season ahead
So what does the forthcoming campaign hold in store for Peterborough? A tough fight for promotion is assured with Southampton, Charlton, Swindon, Sheffield Wednesday, Plymouth Argyle and Huddersfield Town, to name but six, all eyeing the same prize. Despite this, Posh are not settling merely for promotion. Johnson is targeting the League One title and also plans to take the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy seriously.
With Johnson’s managerial ability, the remaining talent in the squad and the funding of MacAnthony to call upon, Peterborough will certainly be a force this season and will be eager to take another two steps forward.
Not only does MacAnthony want to secure promotion to the Championship, but eventually propel the Cambridgeshire side in to the Premier League. Taking one step at a time, Posh look well-equipped to make a top two place a realistic target.
Written by: Conor King