FERGIE FILES PART THREE: Falling apart at the Palace, a Wembley win, why he should have quit Posh earlier than he did and how Celtic’s poor behaviour lead to a star player wrecking an office!

Peterborough United press officer Phil Adlam’s cracking interview with Darren Ferguson ends with Championship joy and despair, League One frustration, a Wembley win and eventual burnout.

By Alan Swann
Sunday, 9th August 2020, 3:23 pm
Posh manager Darren Ferguson after that fateful defeat at Crystal Palace.
Posh manager Darren Ferguson after that fateful defeat at Crystal Palace.

The story starts after Posh had won promotion back to the Championship in May 2011...

LEARNING FROM MISTAKES

“We were confident we would learn from the mistakes we made the last time we were in the Championship.

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Darren Ferguson with the Johnstone's Paint Trophy at Wembley.

“I knew the division better for a start and the club’s ambition was to stabalise in our first season back and then improve again and maybe even push for the play-offs.

“And we did well in that first season, especially in the first half when we beat Ipswich 7-1 and when we played Leeds at home, a win would have put us second as we played before everyone else.

“Leeds manager Simon Grayson switched to a midfield diamond for the first time that season just to match us up which was a huge compliment to us.

“Leeds scored early, Gaby Zakuani equalised for us and then Lee Tomlin was sent off before half-time, but we still looked like get something out of the game when Mark Little scored a goal from nowhere to make it 2-2 late on.

Darren Ferguson's final game of his second spell as Posh manager at MK Dons in 2015.

“The referee said there was four minutes to be added on and 30 seconds after the fourth official told me time was up Leeds scored a winner. We deserved something from that game, but we faded in the second-half of the season without ever threatening to go down so it was a decent season for us (Posh finished 18th on 50 points).

AWFUL START, GREAT RECOVERY

“We were confident we would progress further the following season, Mid-table was now our aim, but we lost our first seven matches.

“I did feel under pressure. The chairman had bought some offices in Peterborough and I went to see him there and he was brilliant with me. We talked for an hour and he picked me up completely. He made it clear I was still wanted. It was unexpected, but it did me so much good.

Lee Tomlin in action for Posh in a 7-1 win over Ipswich.

“We were at Hull who were flying next and I matched them up by playing three at the back with Emile Sinclair and Tyrone Barnett up top. We played on the counter attack and it worked a treat as we destroyed them 3-1.

“The following Tuesday we played at Barnsley and we won again (2-0) after Barnett scored with a superb header.

“We were now just two points from safety, but we just couldn’t get going before Christmas and continued to struggle.

“We did bring Dwight Gayle and George Thorne in and they both flew. We got some momentum and even though George left we looked a good side.

“In the second-half of the season we were the third best team in the Championship on points won and we had a great chance of survival as we reached the penultimate games of the season.

“We were playing late at home to Sheffield Wednesday and we knew that if Hull beat Barnsley earlier in the day and we won, then we would be safe. Hull were going for automatic promotion, but Barnsley beat then 2-0.

“Thankfully Grant McCann scored one of his great free kicks and we won as well leaving us out of the relegation places going into the final day at Crystal Palace.

“On the Tuesday Palace were playing at Millwall and I was hoping for a Palace win as that would have secured a play-off place for them and I fancied they would then leave some players out against us.

“But Palace were in dreadful form and they lost. There were so many permuations going into that final match I felt one would surely work in our favour.”

DESPAIR AT THE PALACE

“We were confident before the last game, but mindful we needed to play well.

“And all looked good when Tomlin scored a worldie in the first-half and when Mendez-Laing put us back in front in the second-half. We knew two of our rivals Barnsley and Huddersfield were drawing with each other so we knew we would have to concede twice to go down.

“Palace then brought on Kevin Phillips who scored and they scored again in the last moments and we were done.

“My insides gave way when the third Palace goal went in. I was numb. It was the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced in football.

“When Palace won that free kick in the final minute Kevin Russell was sat in the stand screaming as he could see no-one had picked up Mile Jedinak.

“The message didn’t get across and Jedinak scored. I can’t remember who was supposed to be marking him and I wouldn’t want to blame anyone now anyway.

“It was a horrible moment and it’s natural to think about what might have made the difference.

“I could have sent Tyrone Barnett on earlier than I did because his height might have made a difference at a set-piece.

“There was still five minutes to go in the Barnsley v Huddersfield match after we had finished, but they knew we had lost so they passed the ball about between them which was poor from them.

“There was an eerie silence for 30 minutes after the game in our dressing room. Nothing I could say would help. We were devastated and I still had a press conference to do which I didn’t handle very well. I spoke to the chairman and I knew I had some serious thinking to do about my future.”

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?

“It was a tough decision whether or not to stay on. We would have had a real chance in the Championship the following season as we would have added to what was already a very good squad.

“But I knew we would now sell Gayle and I knew it would be hard for me to go again which I relayed to the chairman.

“He was shocked, but he wanted me stay and I felt as we had such a good relationship I should have another crack and to be fair Barry Fry got a great price for Gayle and we signed another top striker in Britt Assombalonga.

“We had a good seaon without threatening the top two and we won the JPT Final at Wembley which was great even though I hated our performance. Our motivation now would be to get back to Wembley for the League One play-off final, but we fell short losing to Orient in the semi-final after Craig Allcock missed a sitter from a corner in the last minute of the second leg.

“During that season we lost 5-4 at Oldham after leading 3-0 and the way we collapsed bothered me greatly.

“That was the only time in my career I didn’t do a press conference after the game. There were signs that I was shot. I was knackered. I was mentally gone.”

THE END IS NIGH

“Kev Russell left in the close season and without a shadow of a doubt I should have gone as well. The chairman would agree with me on that as well.

“Gavin Strachan and Gary Breen came in to help with the coaching and pride was getting me through. We were playing well at times, but I was making mistakes.

“We lost comfortably at Bristol City on a Tuesday night and we then travelled to MK Dons who thumped us 3-0 and it could have been a much heavier defeat.

“I was clearly getting too much wrong. In this game I took Michael Smith and Erhun Oztumer off after 25 minutes and it made no difference.

“I was taking my eye of the ball. I was tired. Small things were bothering me too much and let’s face it I deserved the sack. The players were losing confidence in me.

“We were 3-0 down at half-time and yet our fans were superb in that second-half. They never stopped backing the team or me, but I knew I was done.

“It was an embarrassing display. I lambasted the players after the game, spoke to Dons manager Karl Robinson and then text the chairman to see if he wanted to speak. He just said ‘ring me when you get home.’

“I did and he told me had to make a change and I fully agreed with him. There was no drama.

“It obviously wasn’t how I wanted things to end. I wouldn’t see the players again and the last thing I’d done with them was to lambast them.

“I was mentally shattered though. If I’d left as I should have done at the end of the previous season it would have been a far happier departure.

“Now a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I never thought I would come back again.”

TAMING LEE TOMLIN WAS IMPOSSIBLE

“Lee had unbelivable ability. He could run quicker with the ball than without it and he could change a game in a second.

“One morning (in 2013) he rang me on the Saturday morning before a game and said he wanted to go to Celtic.

“They’d made a bid for him and he knew it. The players usually reported for work two hours before a game, but Lee was at the ground early and came over to see me in the gym and demanded to leave.

“I said he couldn’t as Celtic had only bid buttons. He wasn’t happy, but said he was okay to play that afternoon. He wasn’t so I took him off at half-time and we lost. Lee then came to see me in my office and I repeated he couldn’t leave as Celtic’s bid hadn’t been accepted.

“He didn’t take this well. He smashed something in my office, slammed a few doors and stormed out saying I was a disgrace and he would never play for me again! An hour later he rang me to apologise which was typical of him. His discipline was poor that season though which was shame as he was a top, top player.

“Celtic behaved badly back then. For a club of their size to keep making bids while we were playing a game was poor.”