How Peterborough United can beat Barnsley next weekend and qualify for the League One play-offs
But there was little evidence in Saturday’s messy 0-0 draw with Bristol Rovers at the Weston Homes Stadium to suggest the Posh season will extend beyond next Sunday’s tough final day game at fourth-placed Barnsley.
The final play-off slot is now a straight fight between Posh and Derby County. The Rams have as tough a game as Posh as they visit third-placed Sheffield Wednesday, but even a win for Darren Ferguson’s men might not be enough as a side managed by that other League One promotion specialist Paul Warne start the day with a handy two-point advantage and a superior goal difference.
Here are the talking points ahead of the big game at Barnsley...
1) Barnsley will finish fourth in League One no matter what happens against Posh. Sheffield Wednesday will finish third regardless of their result with Derby. There’s every chance Wednesday and Derby will meet again in the play-off semi-final so it will be interesting to see Wednesday’s approach to their game at Hillsborough next weekend. Will they hold something back or will they want to lay down a marker with a convincing win? Posh of course can’t worry about that. They just have to win, but they will need to plan for a motivated Barnsley side who will want to go into the play-offs with some momentum after taking just one point from their last two matches. Posh can’t afford to believe the Tykes will try and coast through what others might see as a meaningless game for them. They made a handful of changes for their game at MK Dons yesterday – star midfielder Adam Phillips wasn’t even in the squad – and were still able to come back from 4-1 down to draw 4-4. Phillips scored the winner at Posh earlier this season and is expected to play next Sunday.
2) Posh have to trust in the pride and professionalism of the Wednesday players. Bristol Rovers arrived at London Road yesterday out of form and with nothing on the game and yet battled, fought and wasted time as though the result was important to them.
3) Posh should be pleased to be away from home on their big day. Their form since Darren Ferguson returned has been more consistent on the road than it has been at home. Posh have only failed to score in three away games under the multi-promotion winning boss. Yesterday was the sixth time they’d drawn a blank at home which includes games against bottom half teams Oxford, Cheltenham and Rovers.
4) Posh will need to be positive from the kick off at Barnsley. They are a dangerous side when leading and a pretty poor one when they fall behind. Score first at Oakwell and make Derby nervous. Wednesday might actually prefer to play Posh than Derby in the play-off semi-finals which could also help the cause. If Posh do get ahead they need to stay positive as a three-goal win would be needed if Derby draw. That margin of victory against this quality of opposition is a long shot, but you never know.
5) Posh need to pray for the fitness of on-loan left-back Nathanael Ogbeta. This is not the game to go into without both of your first choice full-backs, especially as the drop in standard to their replacements is so big. I’d be prepared to play Joe Ward at right-back next week anyway as speed will be required against a mobile attacking unit. Return Kwame Poku to the wing and push Jack Taylor forward in the 10 role, while pairing Hector Kyprianou with Oliver Norburn. Whoever plays will need to pass the ball forward through the thirds with far greater speed than witnessed yesterday and that starts with the goalkeeper.
6) The team’s best players need to show up next Saturday. Ephron Mason-Clark, Jonson Clarke-Harris and Jack Taylor were all far from their best against Rovers. In particular the latter pair know all about the pressure of final day games so they need to lead. Mason-Clark tends to drift between brilliant and dreadful, but any thought of starting Ricky-Jade Jones ahead of him should be resisted.
7) Find a decent set-piece routine. Posh had a dozen corners yesterday and won the first contact about twice.