Happy birthday to Darren Ferguson, the man who has transformed Peterborough United from shambolic to scintillating in 18 days
Peterborough United manager Darren Ferguson has probably had worse birthday weekends.
Ferguson is 48 today (February 9) and deserves a tipple or two after masterminding a remarkable turnaround in Posh fortunes. His team have been transformed from shambolic to scintillating in two-and-a-half wonderful weeks.
Five League One wins in a row have pushed Posh up from 10th to third. They are now the top goalscorers in League One with 60 and they’ve kept the most clean sheets (13), and they have the top goalscorer, and comfortably the best striker in the competition, in Ivan Toney. Actually strike that Toney is the best player in League One full stop.
Lord only knows what Toney and his two new best pals Siriki Dembele and Sammie Szmodics will achieve when they actually get used to each other. Since coming together at the start of the current run, they’ve scored 13 times between them, a marvellous record given that four genuine promotion rivals have been among their, and the team’s, victims.
Toney (2) and Dembele took the scoring honours as Oxford United were thumped 4-0 yesterday, with Josh Knight also striking in the 95th minute, but Szmodics can also be delighted with three assists and an increase in a level of adulation from fans that was already through the roof because of excellence on the pitch and some work with a troubled fan last week off it.
Szmodics epitomises this new Posh team. He doesn’t stop running, he doesn’t stop working, he is a constant nuisance with his relentless pressing, but he can also play. They were all traits of Posh great Craig Mackail-Smith, another who used to lift the London Road crowd, who were superb again yesterday.
Szmodics might lack the natural gifts of Marcus Maddison, but in terms of attitude it’s a no contest.
Posh were sloppy at the start of yesterday’s game, but once they take the lead they were once more a ruthlessly effective outfit. From the 35th minute when the front three combined to enable Dembele to open the scoring Posh were a constant threat going forward, but also defended solidly, notably in the final quarter after Nathan Thompson had become a red card victim of hopelessly inconsistent referee Andy Haines.
It was the perfect time to play Oxford as their small squad were coming off the back of a draining period of extra time in an FA Cup tie against Newcastle, but they remain a slick-passing, talented outfit. It’s doubtful, fully rested, they could have matched the legs and energy of a Posh team who appear to have all parts in perfect working order, although theye did miss a few chances to add to their impressive tally, a minor quibble in these heady days.
Goalkeeper Christy Pym made two flying saves in the latter stages, but was generally well protected by a back three in which skipper Mark Beevers was imperious.
Dan Butler, another to impress greatly yesterday, and Szmodics teed up Toney for 2-0. Butler’s free kick enabled Toney to deliver the third goal before Toney, with an outrageous 50-yard pass, and Szmodics set up galloping substitute Knight for a 95th-minute fourth goal.
It wasn’t quite the perfect day for Posh even if Thompson’s red card shouldn’t be too costly as he’ll only miss Tuesday’s (February 11) visit of struggling Southend.
Posh will have to make two changes to their defence for that game as Frankie Kent limped out early and he will certainly be missed if his absence is as lengthy as expected, while Posh and Ferguson will be sweating over Toney’s availability in this crucial period of the season.
The star man picked up a needless ninth yellow card of the season in added time and one more in the next six matches prompts a two-match suspension for a man who is as irreplacable as Roy of the Rovers.