The Thursday Preview: Peterborough Vs Ipswich
With the top two from last year’s League 1 table being transposed atop the Championship, it is perhaps understandable that much attention has been focused on the South Coast mutual dislike society, Southampton and Brighton. However, the third of the promoted clubs have also made an encouraging start to their campaign.
Wednesday’s creditable draw at the Den might not have been the best team performance so far this season, but both Peterborough’s strengths and frailties were there to assess. The departure of last season’s leading scorer Craig Mackail-Smith to the aformentioned Seagulls has left many wondering where this hitherto freescoring side will find its goals. The starting front trident did look a little less than sharp, with only the workmanlike running of David Ball really leaving an impression, but events late in the second half perhaps provided an answer in the squat and stocky shape of Paul Taylor.
The 23-year-old’s career trajectory so far – from promising youngster at Vauxhall Motors to the Belgian league, via a loan period at Chester City and a six-month ban for alleged drugs use – has been mixed to say the least. Nevertheless, his appearance off the bench swung last night’s game briefly and tellingly in Posh’s favour. Not many players lever Millwall captain Paul Robinson off the ball as Taylor did for the second goal, no mean feat for a member of the 5′ 7″ Club. Post-match, Darren Ferguson mentioned that a lack of fitness had been a concern since Taylor joined the club in March 2011, but the strength and speed shown against the Lions suggest that he has finally learned to knuckle down.
Posh blogger John Verrall Tweeted his disapproval of Lee Tomlin and George Boyd’s performances, but the lower-league Rapunzel’s willingness to track back did offer some mitigation. Boyd’s creative powers in check, the three midfielders did their best to compensate. Grant McCann roamed around the centre circle, weaving the ball between the Millwall lines, while Tommy Rowe and Lee Frecklington supported, very ably in the case of the latter. However, it was only with the late introduction of Manchester United loanee Ryan Tunnicliffe that Posh’s concise passing acquired an edge and he may take a starting berth in Saturday’s late kick-off.
In previous seasons, the defence has been less than secure and clean sheets might not be abundant this year either. However, it could be argued that this has more to do with the team’s eagerness to press into their opponent’s half. Full-backs Mark Little and Craig Alcock were combative and offered an attacking threat on the flanks, although Hameur Bouazza and James Henry found a lot of space behind them as a result of their urgency to get forward. Centre-halves Ryan Bennett and another kid borrowed from Darren Ferguson’s dad, Scott Wootton, were assured on the ball, regularly pushing up alongside McCann, but less so when dealing with the bread and butter of crosses and the movement of Darius Henderson. Luckily for them, ostensibly second-choice ‘keeper Paul Jones had a blinder, saving the match for Posh by brushing Liam Trotter’s shot onto the post immediately before Taylor’s equalising goal.
It may not contain too many members familiar with the Championship, but the squad looks more impressive than in ‘Borough’s last go at the second tier. Ferguson the Younger might last the full season if he can keep the momentum going.
At the bottom end of East Anglia, meanwhile, the manager is under pressure to reward owner Marcus Evans’ spending over previous years with at least a serious attempt at promotion. With that in mind, Paul Jewell has made several purchases in the summer sales so far, the likes of Michael Chopra, Lee Bowyer and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas arriving at Portman Road.
Victory on the opening day away at Bristol City would have got hopes up in Suffolk, but following two subsequent home defeats – 0-1 to Hull last weekend and a 2-5 shellacking by Southampton on Tuesday night – expectations of a vintage season may have levelled off. The impressive early performances of another summer recruit Aaron Cresswell aside, a defence shorn of Gareth McAuley’s experience has a propensity to farce that already has Jewell exasperated.
So, a draw would be the obvious prediction for a game featuring two sides with similar traits, but I fancy home advantage to make the difference. 3-2 to Posh.