COMMENT: The sweetest Posh promotion of all-time as ‘Operation Vengeance’ is completed by a club with a strong bond running from top to bottom
This is the sweetest Posh promotion of them all.
For sure, London Road has seen better, more naturally talented teams, particularly in the Darragh MacAnthony era, but no previously successful Posh squad has had so many huge hurdles placed in a promotion path.
They first had to overcome the throbbing hangover of the previous season when a cartel of self-centred club owners denied them a shot at the Championship at a time when Ivan Toney was causing havoc in a blue shirt.
Sadly, from a Posh point of view, Toney wasn’t to be denied his rightful place in the second tier as the club rightly honoured a promise made to the player even if it left a Grand Canyon-sized hole in the squad. Another massive obstacle that needed overcoming.
Add to that a season without fans, bar one game, and 46 matches crammed into a schedule a month shorter than normal while still retaining a commitment to other competitions, including the pointless EFL Trophy, and it’s remarkable Posh were still running hard in the 96th minute of the 45th game yesterday (May 1).
Posh also played a punishing 11 Tuesday matches in succession soon after Christmas, many on a gruelling London Road surface that tested stamina and fitness like never before.
Big hitters, by League One standards at least, Sunderland, Hull City, Ipswich, Charlton and Portsmouth were among the competition. Promotions are never easy anyway as Posh had proved by failing to reach the play-offs in the previous six seasons, but this campaign looked particularly tough.
Posh would surely need to punch well above their natural weight to succeed.
None of this bothered the irrepressible MacAnthony though. He dubbed the 2020-21 season ‘Operation Vengeance’ in the full knowledge social media trolls would be spouting venom and bile if it all went wrong. Or even if it looked like going wrong.
MacAnthony and his ownership partners Dr Jason Neale and Stewart ‘Randy’ Thompson deserve enormous credit for bankrolling a promotion push at a time when income was pretty much zero and distracting plans for a new stadium and a revamped and improved Academy were ongoing.
For their part the owners were quick to acknowledge the help of those fans who rejected the right to a season ticket refund, both at the end of last season and from the current campaign.
Truly this is a club with a strong bond running from the top to bottom. Manager Darren Ferguson offered to take a 50% paycut to ease the burden on owners who had used much of the Toney money to bring forwards Jonson Clarke-Harris and Sammie Szmodics to the club.
Those signings proved inspired decisions. The return of Szmodics and of on-loan midfielder Reece Brown, meant all bar Toney from the team that finished last season so strongly were back and Clarke-Harris, after some early misgivings over his fitness, proved to be an outstanding replacement for the main man. Actually. ‘outstanding’ doesn’t do justice to a player who gets the maximum from his God-given talents. He was utterly brilliant, making up in attitude and spirit what he lacked in technical ability.
Clarke-Harris has started every League One game so far and delivered a goals tally bettered by only one Posh player in the club’s Football League history, one who played in an era when defending was an optional extra.
And what a triumph for the manager. Darren Ferguson, whose passion for the club and desire to win was exposed by the absence of atmosphere at matches, has now won four promotions with Posh, three of them into the Championship to end all arguments as to the best boss in the club’s history.
Chris Turner will still have his supporters, but he would have been cheering along with the rest of the fans, from a suitably social distance, yesterday had he still been with us.
Turner passed almost six years to the day that Posh won their ninth Football League promotion. It would be impossible to have honoured the great man in a more fitting and poignant way.
Of course next season will be tough. Some of this season’s promotion heroes might not even be at London Road, but they are concerns for another day.
For now we should all be savouring one of the great seasons in Posh history.