Cobblers result was a warning as well as a boost for Peterborough United and why promotion this season would rank as one of the great Posh achievements

Young Posh star Ronnie Edwards. Photo: Joe Dent/ Posh star Ronnie Edwards. Photo: Joe Dent/
Young Posh star Ronnie Edwards. Photo: Joe Dent/
Northampton Town’s shock win over Derby County on Saturday was a warning as well as a boost to Peterborough United.

Cobblers, who looked lifeless and clueless when getting hammered 5-1 by Posh earlier this month, hadn’t won in five matches whereas the Rams had won four games in a row including a big one against automatic promotion rivals Bolton Wanderers.

Derby are still in control of second-place – let’s face it leaders Portsmouth were the biggest beneficiaries of events at Sixfields and look unstoppable as they seek a return to the Championship after a 14 year exile – but pressure can do funny things to players and teams, and who responds best in the next five weeks will determine who goes up with Pompey.

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It could well be Posh. Fans are quick to point out Darren Ferguson’s side have the bottom four to play, but they are fixtures fraught with danger. Teams fighting for their lives are dangerous opponents, although rock-bottom Carlisle, who threw away a 2-0 lead with eight minutes to go against Stevenage on Saturday, should be ideal opponents for Posh next time out at the Weston Homes on Good Friday.

Joel Randall has been at the heart of some great Posh football this season. Photo Joe Dent/ Randall has been at the heart of some great Posh football this season. Photo Joe Dent/
Joel Randall has been at the heart of some great Posh football this season. Photo Joe Dent/

Easter games are always pivotal and there’s every chance Posh can make up ground on Derby who have awkward games at home to play-off chasing Blackpool (Good Friday) and then a huge clash live on TV against Pompey at Fratton Park (Tuesday). Posh, who need to gain two points on the Rams to make their two games in hand matter, also have a tricky Easter Monday fixture at Leyton Orient who are still in the play-off picture.

The other key Easter games for the automatic promotion contenders see Pompey visit in-form Wycombe on Good Friday, third-placed Bolton travel to Stevenage (Friday) before hosting a rejuvenated Reading (Monday) and fifth-placed Barnsley – the least-talked about of the top five – play out-of-form and relegation-haunted Cambridge United (home, Friday) and Burton Albion (away, Monday)

On paper you’d take the Tykes fixtures, but then Derby probably fancied their chances at Cobblers yesterday.

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Posh have eight games left and they didn’t lose any of the reverse fixtures (five wins, three draws), but they could well need to turn disappointing draws against Carlisle, Orient and 10-man Bolton into wins to have any chance of sneaking into the top two at the end of play on April 27.

Young Posh skipper Harrison Burrows in action. Photo David Lowndes.Young Posh skipper Harrison Burrows in action. Photo David Lowndes.
Young Posh skipper Harrison Burrows in action. Photo David Lowndes.

That Bolton game at London Road on the final day is looming large as the mother of all winner-takes-all promotion battles.

If Posh win it, it would, in my opinion, be one of the great achievements by the club and here’s why.

1) It’s true this has not been a vintage League One. Northampton’s current position of 11th confirms that. There has been a lot of dross floating around and lord knows how many points last season’s Ipswich Town would have collected this term if they’d failed to go up. But Posh are the smallest club with the smallest fanbase in the current top five – the other four are all former Premier League/top flight clubs. The top three boast an average attendance of more than double the current Posh average of 9,062. Derby’s average gate is almost three times as big and Pride Park will virtually sell out for the rest of the season. Referees will need to be strong to avoid suggestions they suffer from unconscious bias when operating in raucous atmospheres. In the last few weeks I’ve witnessed some horrendous decisions in favour of Pompey (not at Posh) and Derby. I’ve not seen so many go in Posh’s favour this season. Posh should have had a double figure number of penalties this season. Instead they’ve been awarded three.

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2) Big clubs have big squads. Followers of Pompey, Bolton and Derby all bemoaned the number of injuries they’ve suffered in a recent survey of League One journalists published by the PT on Saturday

They weren’t fibbing about the numbers, but Pompey still managed to put out a competitive and talented team at Posh last weekend even though they had 14 players absent. If Posh had 14 injuries, manager Darren Ferguson might have needed to dust off his boots. Bolton have lost key men, but have used the fewest number of players in League One matches this season (25) according to Posh have used 27, but that includes three goalkeepers, four players who have left the club and six who have only appeared as substitutes. Derby will doubtless miss their assist king Nathaniel Mendez-Laing if the hamstring injury he suffered at Sixfields is serious, but the Rams were still able to bring on another former Posh promotion winner Joe Ward in his place. Indeed the players used by an apparently injury-ravaged Derby at Northampton yesterday boasted close to 4,500 senior appearances between them. The Posh players used against Pompey last time out had just over 2,000 appearances between them and almost 400 belonged to a substitute who came on for a few minutes.

3) It’s the relative youth of the current Posh squad that would make a promotion even more special. According to five of the seven youngest line-ups for a League One match this season have represented Posh (Reading and Wigan are the interlopers). To get such an impressive tune out of such a young set of players for so long has been a terrific achievement. Unlike at Liverpool, Posh have fielded these gifted young men out of choice rather than out of necessity.

4) Compared to the other Posh promotions under Ferguson, this one, if it happens, would be special because it would have been so unexpected, by those on the outside of the club at least. It was a brave move – and might well have been partially motivated by finances – to ditch so many proven promotion winners in favour of putting faith in speedy youngsters with potential. Let’s also not forget the improvement the coaching staff have dragged out of Joel Randall and Harrison Burrows (as a left-back) this season. Few would have predicted the former’s impact.

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5) And if promotion does happen this season while playing some of the best football I’ve seen from a Posh team in my 50 years following them give Ferguson and chairman Darragh MacAnthony the freedom of the city. Promotion-winning football that is easy on the eye is not unique to a team who enjoyed the presence of a Holy Trinity for several years, but the current squad have taken it to another level.