CASE FOR THE DEFENCE: Let battle commence for a starting place
New manager Grant McCann has moved quickly to strengthen the Peterborough United defence ahead of the 2016-17 League One campaign.
Posh conceded 73 goals in 46 League One matches last season, the fourth worst record in the division after bottom two Crewe and Colchester, and Shrewsbury.
Centre-back Ryan Tafazolli and left-back Andrew Hughes arrived at the ABAX Stadium this week from Mansfield and Newport respectively.
They join right-back Hayden White as new defensive recruits.
McCann also insists Leicester City leftback Callum Elder remains a major transfer target.
“It was obvious to me what our weaknesses were last season,” McCann stated. “We conceded too many goals and I had to address that quickly.
“A priority was to give us competition for places at the back and I have done that already.
“We now have two good right-backs, four strong centrebacks and if I can get Callum Elder to the club as well, we will have two good left-backs.”
In a two-part online special the Peterborough Telegraph assesses the new battles for a place in the Posh starting line-up.
Today (June 9) we debate the full-back positions, tomorrow (June 10) it will be the central defenders.
MICHAEL SMITH v HAYDEN WHITE
Smith is currently negotiating an extension to his existing Posh contract which has a year to run. He was a star performer during the golden run of Posh form before Christmas last season. He was so good he won his first Northern Ireland cap earlier this year.
Smith is a dashing attacker who delivers a decent cross, but he is prone to defensive lapses, often allowing too many crosses to enter the Posh danger area.
White is sure to push Smith hard for his place. He made an instant impression on Posh fans in the last game of last season when his sheer pace drew gasps of admiration and surprise.
White looks physically stronger than Smith, but it’s worth noting that he was part of a Blackpool back four that conceded five goals at the ABAX Stadium, four of them from his side of the defence.
One assumes Posh were scouting him before the beginning of May. Let’s hope so.
McCann says: “Hayden is quick, strong and athletic. He was impressive against us on the last day of the season and I moved quickly for him as I knew other teams would be interested.
“I’m a big fan of Michael and we have started talking about extending his new deal.”
Swanny says: If Posh play a midfield diamond, which under McCann they probably will, their full-backs have to be dynamic, athletic and quick. White’s powers of recovery when fleetingly caught upfield were mightily impressive on the last day of the season.
Wether or not he can match Smith’s attacking quality is less clear and I’d be surprised if Smith doesn’t start the season as first choice, providing he signs that new contract.
CALLUM ELDER (hopefully!) v ANDREW HUGHES
Elder’s return is still up in the air, but assuming McCann’s confidence about the capture of the talented Aussie is not misplaced, it would be a significant boost to Posh prospects.
Elder was quite brilliant in Graham Westley’s Posh team and his pre-Christmas injury was as big a blow as losing free-scoring Conor Washington in January.
The Leicester loanee looked born to play as a left-back behind (or often in front of) a midfield diamond. He crossed the ball better than any recent Posh left-back with the possible exception of Tommy Williams.
Hughes left Newport for Posh after six years in South Wales. He helped the club to promotion back to the Football League before suffering a serious knee injury that kept him out of action for 11 months.
Hughes returned to action in November last year and played strongly in the second-half of the season in League Two. A Newport contact told the Peterborough Telegraph that Hughes is good in possession, defends strongly, but can also play effectively at centre-back.
McCann says: “I monitored Andrew for a few months and when I realised he would not be signing a new contract at Newport I moved in. Andrew was very good in the second half of last season and will give us good balance in a position that was a problem last season as soon as Callum left.
“Callum has been my number one target all summer. Our season fell away when we lost Callum, Jermaine Anderson and Conor Washington in quick succession.”
Swanny says: Elder’s return would make it hard for Hughes. He played left-back for Posh last season as well as anyone since Adam Drury.