ALAN SWANN’S TALKING POINTS FROM DERBY DAY VICTORY: ‘The best first-choice starting XI in League One, when Szmodics is hot he’s very hot, Taylor’s masterclass, a crucial decision explained and is the title now within reach?’
I’ve said it before and it’s still true - Posh have the best first choice starting XI in League One.
Darren Ferguson’s side might not have the strength in depth of their automatic promotion rivals Hull City and Sunderland - and let’s face it they are huge clubs compared to Posh - but when everyone is fit and available there is no reason to be intimidated.
The likes of Nathan Thompson, Frankie Kent, Jack Taylor and a formidable front three of Jonson Clarke-Harris, Sammie Szmodics and Siriki Dembele would not look out of place in a League One team of the year so what a boost to have no outfield injuries with five matches to go after the most brutal and intense run of fixtures modern day professionals have ever experienced.
When the best players are all involved one or two can have an off day and victories will still arrive. Dembele struggled again on this cloying Posh playing surface last night, but it didn’t matter as Szmodics was back and in goalscoring form.
Last night’s 3-1 win against a spirited Northampton Town side at the Weston Homes Stadium was a huge step towards automatic promotion for Posh. They have shoved the pressure right back on Sunderland and on Hull who both play today (Saturday, 12.30pm kick offs).
Posh haven’t won a title since the 1973-74 season, but they now have a realistic chance of winning the third tier for the first time in the club’s history. It’s not that important in the grand scheme of things, but an actual trophy would be a rather splendid reward, especially for the owners who have backed the club in the most difficult financial climate imaginable.
OTHER TALKING POINTS FROM LAST NIGHT.
1) Posh now need a maximum of 11 points from five matches to seal promotion, so four wins, and that target will be reduced if Sunderland fail to win at fifth-placed Blackpool today. It’s not been a bad time to hit form. Posh have won four of five unbeaten matches since they bombed at Bloomfield Road on March 23. They’ve conceded just two goals, to a free-kick and a penalty, in that time and they are now the top scorers in League One again (two more goals than Hull who host Fleetwood today).
2) Szmodics now has 14 League One goals this season plus one in the EFL Trophy. Thirteen of those goals have arrived in 20 League One matches since January 16. He claimed his fifth brace of the season against Cobblers to confirm once again that when he’s hot he’s very hot.
3) Jack Taylor is a Championship-standard player already. He has an outstanding all-round midfield game and it was pleasing to see him burst into the penalty area at times last night because he is an automatic threat with his shooting ability, and indeed his height. But it was the weight and timing of his passing in the second-half that stood out. Taylor had a massive hand in both second-half goals and his return after injury has been key to this recent run of fine results.
4) Cobblers’ interim manager Jon Brady was a first-team boss most recently at non-league Brackley. His tactics last night were interesting. Cobblers stood off Posh when the ball was being knocked around at the back, but still kept a high back line themselves which was asking for trouble with the speed of Joe Ward and Dembele and the intelligence of Szmodics against them. It frustrated Posh in the first-half as they couldn’t synchronise their attacking movement with the pass, but they scored with a knock over the top within four minutes of the re-start and added a third goal following a much longer ball behind a full-back. To be fair Brady got a spirited display out of his players, but they lacked attacking quality. They looked stronger than fellow strugglers Swindon had the previous week, but the future looks bleak for our county rivals. Among their final four matches are games against Blackpool and Sunderland.
5) Jonson Clarke-Harris netted his 30th goal of the game in all competitions from the penalty spot last night. Three Posh players have reached that landmark in the last decade, Craig Mackail-Smith (2010-11), Britt Assombalonga (2013-14) and Jack Marriott (2017-18), but none bagged 30 League goals. Clarke-Harris is just two shy of becoming the second Posh player in their Football League history to rech that landmark after Terry Bly (1960-61).
6) You could hear Posh boss Darren Ferguson yelling ‘tempo’, ‘forwards’ and ‘two touches’ regularly last night. Midfielder Reece Brown in particular didn’t always heed his manager’s instructions. Brown worked hard enough, but he wasn’t at his sharpest on the ball. It wouldn’t be the greatest suprise if Ferguson went with Ethan Hamilton’s physicality when faced with Gillingham’s power on Tuesday (April 20).
7) Harrison Burrows was given half an hour in place of the disappointing Dembele against Cobblers and it was obvious the teenager hadn’t been adversely affected by his public dressing down from the manager last weekend. Burrows gave Posh more energy and more defensive assistance than Dembele and offered up just as much attacking intensity.
8) Brady was unhappy Posh skipper Mark Beevers wasn’t sent off after conceding a penalty last night. It was a foul, Beevers was the last man and he made no attempt to play the ball as he impeded Alex Jones. But crucially, was it a clear and obvious goalscoring opportunity? Referee Lee Swabey, who enjoyed a decent game, thought not as the ball was as close to Posh ‘keeper Josef Bursik as it was Jones so Beevers was given the benefit of the doubt. It could have gone a different way on another night and Beevers could also have been sitting out the home game with Gillingham on Tuesday with no obvious replacement in the squad.