The 25 Best Players in the Championship - as voted for by you: Part 8 of 25
In time-honoured tradition, the Championship’s newly-promoted teams are doing just fine so far this season. Peterborough United are currently 16th in the table but, with the division as tight as ever, there is understandable positivity about the chances of a top-half finish at London Road. Central to Posh’s chances will be their talented Northern Irish midfielder Grant McCann. John Verrall is impressed.
Grant McCann (Peterborough United)
The defensive midfield role is one that, as suggested by the name, is generally considered to be a position for a player whose strength lies in breaking up opposition attacks. Players like Claude Makelele have made a career out of being the “stopper” type of midfielder. Without being fancy or flamboyant, they go about their work quietly but efficiently and perform a key role in the team.
Peterborough United treat the position a little differently, however. When Darren Ferguson re-joined The Posh, in November of last year, he set about adapting his formation to fit in Grant McCann. It was a testament to the Northern Ireland international’s ability that Fergie Jnr decided to mould his Peterborough side around him rather than a star of his previous reign like George Boyd or Craig Mackail-Smith.
Ferguson decided that the best way to utilise McCann’s talent would be to play him in a defensive midfield position – rather than the central midfield place he had been occupying during previous manager Gary Johnson’s spell in charge of the club. McCann’s strengths do not lie in his physical attributes and having a trio of midfielders in front of him meant that his lack of pace, which had been particularly evident under Johnson, was much less of an issue.
The reason for dropping McCann back to defensive midfield, though, was not because of his ability to read the game, or strength in the tackle. Indeed, his major traits do not lie in defence. McCann is not a conventional defensive midfielder. Peterborough United are not a conventional team.
With McCann now playing in a deeper role, he became the protagonist in Ferguson’s revival of a languishing Peterborough United side. Allowed more time in possession, the former Cheltenham man was able to use his full array of passes. Spreading the play long, linking up short, he was ultimately the man expected to dictate the tempo of the game for his side.
He never looked back. Despite being the deepest of the four midfielders in the diamond formation that Ferguson adopted, he was the most creative of the bunch and ended the season at the top of the League One assists charts and with 12 league goals to his name.
A major contributing factor to this was his dead-ball ability. There are few players, at any level, who are more dangerous with a set-piece than Grant McCann. With a supreme ability to place the ball exactly where he wants, his free-kicks and corners alone have single-handedly won Posh games.
The play-offs showcased this. In the most high pressure of situations Peterborough United’s captain shone. At MK Dons, with Posh’s promotion ambitions dangling by a thread, McCann scored a late penalty, holding his nerve and sending the goalkeeper the wrong way to get his side back into the tie. Then, in the home leg, he scored a marvellous free-kick to level the scores at 3-3 on aggregate and provide the foundations upon which Posh could build their comeback.
He wasn’t finished there either. With the scores level at Old Trafford in the play-off final it was from McCann’s set-piece that Posh broke the deadlock. Whipping a wonderfully powerful free-kick into the box, all Tommy Rowe needed to do was make contact and the ball was in the back of the net. It was all Posh needed too. A second goal quickly followed and then McCann himself got on the scoresheet from a majestic free-kick to seal Peterborough’s promotion to the Championship.
McCann’s technical ability is fit to grace the Premier League. At 31, though, his chance to play at the top level may have passed him by. He has always remained one of the Football League’s best kept secrets, impressing fans of clubs wherever he has been but never making a big move elsewhere. However, with his reputation now growing – currently sitting third in the Championship top scorers list – it will be impossible for Grant McCann to stay a secret for much longer.
Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.