ALAN SWANN’s Peterborough United talking points from defeat at Stoke City: ‘Points not platitudes please, illogical decisions, reinforcements required, an improved mindset and cynical, timewasting opponents who loved a tactical foul’

The copy and paste function comes in handy to report on Peterborough United awaydays in the Championship.

By Alan Swann
Sunday, 21st November 2021, 9:11 am
Siriki Dembele of Peterborough United in action with Romaine Sawyers of Stoke City. Photo: Joe Dent/
Siriki Dembele of Peterborough United in action with Romaine Sawyers of Stoke City. Photo: Joe Dent/

Eight defeats in nine and in six of those games Posh have failed to score. In several of them the opposition goalkeeper could have sat in a deckchair and taken a newspaper out to read, even when the hosts were without key players as Stoke City were at the Bet365 Stadium yesterday (November 20). The 2-0 defeat couldn’t have surprised any regular watcher of this Posh team.

On this occasion Posh did play pretty well in possession and they generally defended comfortably against a Stoke side with an excellent home record. It’s hard to argue with Darren Ferguson’s claim that it was ‘the best away display of the season,’ but then that’s a bar almost as low as a claim to be the most effective UK politician.

Stoke manager Michael O’Neill was generous in his assessment of Posh as well, but it’s points Ferguson’s side needs not platitudes. They need a goal threat not a sympathetic pat on the head from kindly opponents. They need players with the vision to create chances rather than players whose first thought is often to turn backwards. They need a greedy so-and-so up front ready to pull the trigger rather than pass on the responsibility to someone else, but those forwards also need more suppport. Sadly all of that seems as far away as ever when Posh leave the comforts of the Weston Homes Stadium.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Mark Beevers of Peterborough United battles in the air with Danny Batth of Stoke City. Photo: Joe Dent/

It’s true they are due some luck (the third minute goal they conceded was a horrible fluke), but how about making your own luck by showing more bravery, positivity and ruthlessness up front?


1) I don’t agree with it, but I get the logic behind leaving the physicality of Jonson Clarke-Harris on the substitutes’ bench and asking Jorge Grant to thread a needle and find two more mobile forwards in Siriki Dembele and Sammie Szmodics. Grant, although more prominent than in many of his appearances, is not at that level yet though even though Szmodics doesn’t stop running and Dembele managed to impress both managers yesterday with some skilled dribbles, up until the Championship cloggers caught up with him. But there is very little sign of a partnership between the two forwards and Szmodics is still the one receiving the ball where you’d want Dembele to have it - inside the opposition penalty area. Clarke-Harris is no Ivan Toney, but I remember the havoc Dembele caused when playing alongside a more powerful forward a couple of seasons ago.

2) I don’t understand the logic of playing three centre-backs against a team who play with one striker who has very little pace. And then deploying two shielding midfielders in front of them. It’s a formation that could have been ripped up after 20 minutes yesterday as Stoke had made it pretty obvious by then that attacking in numbers was not going to be part of their gameplan. It helped the possession stats as Posh took control of the ball easily enough, but one reason so many backward passes are made because the likes of Szmodics, Joe Ward and Dembele are usually heavily outnumbered and a glance in the opposition penalty area would confirm only defenders were present. I understand different opponents demand different approaches, but Posh played so well with a flat back four against far superior opposition in Fulham last time out (and they tested a fine goalkeeper in that game) it was a surprise to see a formation that leaves Mark Beevers in possession as often as Jack Taylor. Taylor showed what a threat he can be when close to the opposition penalty area with a superb shot that crashed against the crossbar from 22 yards in the second half. The formation didn’t even change when Clarke-Harris was introduced.

Peterborough United Manager Darren Ferguson issues instructions from the touchline alongside Stoke City manager Michael O'Neill. Photo: Joe Dent/

3) Of course one can continually bang on about formations, but maybe the bigger problem is some players have found the step up from League One too difficult. January is approaching and surely reinforcements will be sought? It’s optimistic and naive to believe Joel Randall and Ricky-Jade Jones are the answer in this division at this time in their careers, no matter how much potential they have.

4) There was encouragement yesterday. A cruel early goal against them didn’t lead to Posh folding in a heap as in previous away matches. Indeed their response in terms of mentality, effort and workrate was impressive. I wonder if that psychologist employed to some effect last week can now help improve the shooting stats by working on a more positive attacking mindset? Fourteen shots at goal with one on target is a frustrating statistic.

5) Posh had nine corners yesterday and threatened twice, one when Beevers inexplicably headed the ball sideways when unmarked in the first-half and one when a short corner led to Dembele racing into the area after the break. Stoke won just three corners and only the excellence of Dai Cornell stopped them scoring from one of them. Set-pieces remain a massive problem.

6) Time-wasting is a scourge of our game, although seeing the team sitting fourth indulge in some extreme negativity at home against little old Posh, and their dismal away record, for the entire second-half was both encouraging (they must have been worried) and frustrating. Teams are taking the sting out of games by just sitting down on the pitch claiming cramp, or if there is a particularly dangerous attack brewing, holding their head. What sort of a mindset does a player have when he’s cautioned for timewasting with 30 seconds to go with his team 2-0 up as home goalkeeper Adam Davies was yesterday? Being a member of an entertainment business which charges high admission rates is too easily forgotten by the cynics and spoilers in professional football.

7) The above antics leave referees, ones without medical degreees at least, in in a difficult position, but yesterday’s official Geoff Eltringham was excellent throughout. He did all he could by justifiably adding seven minutes at the end of the game and cautioning five home players, some for some crude tactical fouling.