It was 4-3-3 most of the way when McCann steered Hull City to the League One title in his last season at this level. It’s been 4-3-3 with Posh for most of this pre-season.
It’s a formation that didn’t work at Cheltenham on Saturday, although there were mitigating circumstances with the absence of key defender Nathan Thompson and in-form forward Kwame Poku. Fitness concerns over eventual man-of-the-match Joe Ward also restricted McCann’s options.
But the difference in performance level once McCann had reacted sensibly to a dismal first 45 minutes was so stark, it would be a major surprise if the boss didn’t start with the 3-4-1-2 system that enabled Posh to come from 2-0 down to win, in some style, 3-2 in many more matches.
Of course knee-jerk reactions after one game can backfire, but set-ups need to suit the players rather than the other way around and some Posh men appeared much more comfortable in the second-half system.
Harrison Burrows is a better wing-back than full-back as is Joe Ward. Josh Knight, in his own words. was ‘pony’ for 45 minutes as a stand-in right-back, but gallopped forward like a thoroughbred as a right-sided centre-back. Jonson Clarke-Harris was a man possessed when Jack Marriott appeared right alongside him for the second half.
Even that great talent Ronnie Edwards struggled against the power and pace of Southampton loanee Dan Nlundulu when faced with one-on-one situations. With three centre-backs the powerful forward was far less effective and Edwards displayed the calm composure which has seen Premier League scouts flock to the Weston Homes Stadium.
McCann is a pragmatic, professional man and he will be happy enough he has two formations he can trust and which his squad can switch seamlessly to during games.
It was a good day for the boss. I forgot to mark him in my ratings story from Cheltenham so he can have his 8/10 now.
OTHER TALKING POINTS…
1) It was fascinating to hear Grant McCann at the fans’ forum last week say he didn’t fancy Jonson Clarke-Harris as a player in his side when he returned to Posh last February. A few weeks later he named him skipper and confirmed that appointment in the summer. It’s looking an inspired decision.
Clarke-Harris finished the Championship season with seven goals in 11 matches and he added two more in the win at Cheltenham on opening day.
Of course captaincy is not all about personal performance. Could the centre-forward inspire those around him? He answered that question at Whaddon Road very publicly after McCann had sent his players out for the second-half five minutes earlier than the home side. Clarke-Harris pulled the team around him and spoke animatedly for a couple of minutes. Posh won that second-half 3-0.
2) McCann said he had the two best strikers in the division before the season kicked off and I guess we shouldn’t be surprised two League One Golden Boot winners scored three goals in the 45 minutes they spent on the pitch together. A fit Jack Marriott on the substitutes bench is some luxury at third tier level. It’s difficult to see Posh continuing to choose one or the other striker when they have proved both can play effectively in the same team.
3) That wise man Barry Fry said he felt the ability to use five subs in a game rather than three would suit Posh because of their strength in depth. He’s 77 and still sharp as a tack as game one proved.
4) I must admit I didn’t expect to see Sammie Szmodics in action at Cheltenham, not with a move for a life-changing salary to Blackburn Rovers apparently imminent. He didn’t appear distracted though. He played with energy and impressed McCann with his pressing in the second-half. He played a part in the first and third goals before departing in the final stages. When substituted he left the pitch to the opposite side to the dugouts which enabled him to make an emotional walk past the packed away end. ‘We don’t want you to go,’ sang the Posh fans and it’s true he’s certainly an asset at League One level. But if Posh have received an offer of £2.5 million for a 26 year-old yet to shine at Championship level I’d sell. That seems like an inflated fee for a player of his type. I’d hunt for a replacement outside of the current squad though, especially if Kwame Poku is out for any length of time.
5) The full-back situation remains a concern, especially if Nathan Thompson continues to pick up niggles and knocks (he might be better in the middle of a back three these days anyway). Harrison Burrows is a talent, but not a defensive one, so one can only assume Joe Tomlinson has yet to impress McCann in training or in pre-season. Benjamin Mensah is raw and Joe Ward showed at Cheltenham that his gift is creating goals, not defending.
6) It was great fun to be back in League One with Posh. The second-half was a real throwback to Darren Ferguson’s early Posh teams when adventure always trumped caution and a ‘we’ll just score more goals than you’ attitude ran through the side. The Championship has many outstanding attributes, but entertainment isn’t always one of them.