Is the Peterborough United process still trustworthy? A summary of the Posh season so far covering recruitment, success and failures and why it would be daft to write this team off
Peterborough United are almost a quarter of the way through their Championship season so time for the PT to reflect on what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong so far for Darren Ferguson’s team.
Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony’s bold ‘operation vengeance’ statement ahead of last season was vindicated by promotion. His slogan for the 2021-22 campaign at a higher level - ‘trust the process’ - is currently more vulnerable to mockery.
The ‘process’ partly revolves around excellent recruitment, including the identification of young gems capable of stepping up to a tougher standard of football. It’s very early days, but two wins and seven defeats in the first 11 games with minimal contributions from the new signings suggests the process has started slowly.
Even the bottom half of the Championship presents a far sterner test than the newcomers have ever experienced.
Splashing out a million quid on a player from Exeter, Joel Randall, with less than 50 professional appearances to his name was an eye opener. It could turn out to be a masterstroke - and he showed glimpses of quality before picking up a thigh injury - but Posh don’t have the time or the strength in depth to wait for players to develop, not if they want to stay in the Championship.
Joel Tomlinson and Kwame Poke are two other recruits unlikely to feature much this season.
I confess I felt the signings of Jorge Grant and Josh Knight were strong moves. Midfielder Grant was a class act in League One last season while centre-back Knight was fresh from a season of Championship football with Wycombe Wanderers where he excelled.
But Wycombe don’t require their defenders to be comfortable in possession whereas Posh want to pass the ball out from the back and Knight has looked most uncomfortable as a result, so much so he is now behind an 18 year-old in the pecking order.
Grant has too much natural ability to stay quiet for long, but it as a surprise Posh didn’t sign players with experience of the physicality and athleticism of the Championship to join a squad that hardly had any. When you take veteran Mark Beevers’ 170 second tier appearances out of the equation you were left with 97 minutes of action at Bristol City for Sammie Szmodics and 50 games for Jonson Clarke-Harris several years ago.
Posh didn’t properly address the goalkeeping situation in the summer. Christy Pym was always going to struggle to make the step up so the award of a new three-year deal plus the arrival of a ‘keeper who had spent most of last season on the Ipswich Town bench was baffling.
Dai Cornell has though been a pleasing success story this season as has midfielder Oliver Norburn, but it’s not yet obvious why Posh spent so long pursuing West Ham’s young midfielder Conor Coventry. He’s another still getting to grips with the Championship, a far speedier and more physical competition than Ireland’s under 21 captian has ever encountered. Time is on Coventry’s side and the fact he spent the start of the season sitting on West Ham United’s bench in the Premier League suggests he is highly rated by some good judges.
Coventry may get there, but it needs to happen quickly, especially as star midfielder Jack Taylor has yet to fire.
Of the other promoted clubs from League One, Hull City have been hampered by a limited transfer embargo, but Blackpool have benefitted from strong recruitment including six players from Championship or Premier League clubs.
Blackpool won the League One play-offs last season and are currently in the top half of the Championship which is a fantastic effort.
LACK OF FORWARD FIREPOWER
Of course Jack Marriott’s return to Posh in the summer delivered Championship experience and goals. Taking him on a free transfer following a healthy personal paycut was a no-brainer.
But Marriott had injury issues last season and with Clarke-Harris also bringing an injury into the summer, it was a shock Posh didn’t seek another striker, even on loan, while the big two worked on their fitness. Despite his obvious potential it’s big ask to expect teenager Ricky-Jade Jones to be successful at Championship level.
Posh left themselves exposed to injury issues, although to lose all three forwards at the same time is most unfortunate.
Posh have conceded six goals in the final 10 minutes of matches. Four points (Cardiff, West Brom, Bristol City) have been lost as a result.
Is it a concentration issue? A lack of fitness?
But Posh have scored twice in the final 10 minutes of a match, both in the win over Derby in the second game of the season which turned no points into three so there’s only a net loss of one point late on in games.
Posh have conceded two goals in four-minute spells an astonishing five times this season. They managed it twice in the 6-2 thrashing at Sheffield United. Posh also conceded two in seven minutes against Cardiff and Bristol City.
That suggests a lack of confidence as well as mental weakness.
And set-pieces remain a massive concern at both ends of the pitch. It’s presumably why Posh have appointed a specialist set-piece coach.
Innovation is required at attacking dead ball situations as a simple cross into a dangerous area won’t cut it for a team that’s relatively small. Coventry City’s first goal in last month’s match at the Ricoh Arena was horrible as it came from a Posh corner after they had failed to station a single player on the edge of the penalty area enabling the home side to collect the loose ball, break away and score. Schoolboy stuff.
Five defeats out of five away from home and a negative goal difference of 13 (3-16) is a scary record.
Aside from Cornell and Norburn, defenders Nathan Thompson and Ronnie Edwards have been excellent, although the latter will have his composure and ability tested by opponents now they’ve seen him in action.
Thompson’s positivity in possession needs to be copied by teammates.
Frankie Kent, Dan Butler and Siriki Dembele have been good in patches, while the two-goal return of Szmodics last weekend was a huge positive. It will help Posh press opposition defences, something that has rarely happened this season.
There is enough ability in the squad for them not to be written off at this early stage, but they need to get the balance between defence and attack spot on. The 3-0 beating of Birmingham is the only time this season when attacking quality has been accompanied by defensive solidity.
Posh have now conceded more than two goals a game (23 in 11 matches), which is a worrying statistic. This should improve when skipper Beevers returns at Middlesbrough on October 14.
Perhaps surprisingly Posh have performed better, at home at least, against the hoofballers like West Brom and Cardiff, than against the footballing outfits.
Finding three teams Posh will finish above is tough, but there is still plenty of time for form reversals.
Even Derby are just six points behind Posh after suffering a 12-point deduction, although a further nine-point penalty, which is apparently on the cards, will surely ruin their season. Reading are also set for a nine-point deduction which would leave them just one point behind Posh.
Hull will be one team targetted by Posh so it’s a big game at the KCOM Stadium later this month.
One win in 11 matches suggests Barnsley’s surprise run to the play-offs last season was a one-off, but it’s hard to see Swansea, Cardiff - or Nottingham Forest staying near the bottom.
Posh boss Ferguson has overseen a massive turnaround in form at this level before so that experience should be valuable.
It’s also worth noting Coventry had eight points after 11 Championship games last season, survived and now sit third this season.
Indeed, uncannily, Coventry’s record then of P11 W2 D2 L7 F12 A23 is identical to the current Posh playing record!