The outcome was mistakes galore and a heavy 4-1 defeat, a scoreline which flattered only Posh. The errors on the field were crucial. For all their obvious quality Coventry are rarely free-scoring. Indeed before yesterday they’d scored just five goals in their previous seven matches so gift-wrapping the first three goals through poor goalkeeping, losing the ball in a bad area and then slicing a cross past your own goalkeeper was horribly disappointing. Staying in the contest against this opposition was crucial, but the game was gone after 25 minutes even if it took Coventry almost another hour to slam the door completely shut.
The Posh problems are obvious, the solutions less so, although some of the fans responding to a request for post-match comments believe sacking the manager, placing recruitment in different hands and replacing the vast majority of the players in the next fortnight are the answers...
This was far from Posh boss Darren Ferguson’s finest couple of hours. I believe he picked the wrong team, he abandoned his original gameplan too early and he made one of the most baffling substitutions of the season so far.
Posh signed a 6ft 4in goalkeeper with Championship experience in Steven Benda last Wednesday and yet stuck with a number one in Dai Cornell whose form had started to wobble. It was a decision that rebounded after just 15 minutes when Gustavo Hamer scored from 30 yards with a shot that Cornell got hands to, but didn’t save. Now Benda may not turn out to be Gordon Banks, or even Ian Feuer, but he’s big and likes to command his area, something Posh haven’t experienced from a goalkeeper for several seasons. Benda will probably get his chance against the long-ball, set-piece specialists of West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns next weekend, a tough game to walk into when you haven’t played a first-team game since September.
Posh started this game with a midfield diamond and switched to three centre-backs as soon as they fell 2-0 down after 25 minutes. Fair enough on the surface, but those two goals arrived courtesy of individual errors rather than a failure of the formation, although it could equally be argued trying to play through a firce press with these players was hugely optimistic. Bali Mumba was caught in possession enabling Matt Godden to show off his improved finishing skills and give Coventry a 2-0 lead. Posh actually played okay on the ball in those opening stages and looked a threat, but, even though they did drag a goal back courtesy of Jorge Grant’s outstanding 37th-minute finish, they never came close to scoring again. Visiting goalkeeper Ben Wilson was a virtual spectator after the break.
And did the change of shape shore the Posh defence up? Not at all. Coventry had a staggering 22 shots on goal in the game, pretty much one every four minutes. That isn’t just down to the defenders. It smacks of a lack of protection from others.
Ferguson over-reacted to the first quarter of the game and he did the same just before the hour mark when substituting Siriki Dembele with his side still only 2-1 down. Dembele had clearly irritated the boss with a lightweight display full of poor-decision making and a lazy, non-attempt to get onside was the final straw. As poorly as he was playing I had assumed Dembele was carrying an injury (he’d even limped out of the pre-match warm-up), but apparently not. I get Ferguson’s frustration, but he has one matchwinner capable of upsetting Championship defenders in his squad and Coventry’s players, particularly Dominic Hyam who had picked up a yellow card earlier in the game, must have jumped for joy inside when Dembele was replaced by Jonson Clarke-Harris. A bigger deficit and it might have made sense to end the game with Clarke-Harris and teenager Ricky-Jade Jones on the pitch, but at 1-2 it was an act of self-harm. Unfortunately Ferguson fell ill yesterday and didn’t attend the post-match press conference so explanations fell to his rookie assistant Matthew Etherington.
Should Ferguson go? I would say not and not just because the current chairman has an awful record of picking managers who aren’t called Ferguson. Remember Mark Cooper? And Graham Westley? I assume Ferguson has had a hand in the recruitment of the current squad and I assume players aren’t signed without his say-so, but he isn’t the one making the most noise when signings go well so he shouldn’t carry the can alone when players with recent injury issues end up injured and others are asked to make too big a leap too quickly. There is no obvious replacement for Ferguson out there, certainly not one that would work well with the current chairman’s high profile involvement.
That involvement includes a responsibility for recruitment and to be fair he often got it spot on in League One, certainly in recent times with Dembele, Ivan Toney, Clarke-Harris and Jack Taylor as prime examples. But the process we were asked to trust in the summer has failed. It could be January loan signings combined with points deductions for others eventually gets Posh out of trouble, but this wasn’t the plan when the August transfer window shut.
Last week we heard comments about a ‘limited budget’ compared to the bullish optimism of the summer.
Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and admit the other team were much better, That was the case yesterday as Posh lost at home in the Championship this season for the first time by more than one goal. There was no lack of effort and no ‘quit’ from the Posh team, but they ran into a superior team at the top of their game who ruthlessly explosed weaknesses and errors and who ran them off their feet. Cornell actually went on to play well after the break to help keep Posh in the game for longer than they deserved, Josh Knight played with eye-catching commitment as did skipper Oliver Norburn. The switch of midfield diamond positions between Grant and Taylor made perfect sense and showed promise until the early system change, but defensive vulnerability accompanied by a lack of precision and quality up top, especially when Dembele’s on a non-going day, is a recipe for defeat.
Results elsewhere rescued the day to some extent and if Posh are still only three points from safety at the end of what always looked a tough January I’d treat that as a big positive given the February games to come against close rivals Cardiff, Reading, Derby and Hull.