It's now easy to write off Peterborough United's chances of promotion in the 2023-24 season, but should we?

Ephron Mason-Clark in action for Posh. Photo: Joe Dent/ Mason-Clark in action for Posh. Photo: Joe Dent/
Ephron Mason-Clark in action for Posh. Photo: Joe Dent/
Glancing through the club’s release and retained list, alongside the expected sale of their best two players, it’s easy to write off Peterborough United’s chances of a League One promotion tilt next season.

After all how do you replace the guaranteed 25 goals plus of Jonson Clarke-Harris, the midfield drive and all-round class of Jack Taylor and the defending and on-ball quality of Ronnie Edwards who was a mighty Posh presence by the end of last season?

Promotion-winning experience will be wiped out completely if all those on the list, as well as Taylor, leave London Road. Harrison Burrows and Ricky-Jade Jones were about in 2020-21, but started just nine League One games between them.

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The average age of the 14 players still listed as part of the first-team squad next season is a 21.7 which includes Taylor (24) and Edwards (20) who are both likely to leave. The oldest is Kabongo Tshimanga, a forward rarely seen in action since he pitched up in January, at 25. He looks a worthy successor to Clarke-Harris at taking penalties though.

Joel Randall in action for Posh. Photo: Joe Dent/ Randall in action for Posh. Photo: Joe Dent/
Joel Randall in action for Posh. Photo: Joe Dent/

It’s all doom and gloom then. It’s a relegation battle rather than a promotion push. If the club wanted to dampen expectations ahead of what looks like being a much weaker League One in 2023-24 the lists released earlier today, and some of the manager’s comments, mean it’s mission accomplished.

Or of course the new approach could also be seen as the start of a bold, exciting new era under a manager who doesn’t have to search far and wide to find someone whose own team was written off as too young. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was once told ‘you’d never win anything with kids’ a comment that still haunts pundit Alan Hansen today.

Posh played like a stale team in the first-half of last season. The levels of those promotion heroes of two seasons before had dropped alarmingly. Some of them were handsomely paid which was a great irritation to chairman Darragh MacAnthony and it took the return of Ferguson to wake them up.

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MacAnthony suggested on his ‘Hard Truth’ podcast this week some players looked ‘disinterested’ until a ‘phenomenal’ League One manager took over. A minor miracle in reaching the play-offs was achieved, but the pre-season aim of automatic promotion was gone well before the turn of the year.

Will Blackmore (centre). Photo: Joe Dent/ Blackmore (centre). Photo: Joe Dent/
Will Blackmore (centre). Photo: Joe Dent/

Who can blame the chairman in particular for wanting to try a new tactic? He’s been instrumental in developing a first-rate Academy, one that produced tremendous results last season. What is the point of that if players can’t view a clear path to the first-team?

It’s probable there will be some pain next season before any pleasure arrives. Never mind the age of the remaining players, this sort of squad upheaval is unlikely to lead to a fast start.

Patience will be required, but that quality is at odds with the thirst for instant and constant success, especially from the social media fanatics, which to be fair this chairman and manager have been good at delivering in the past.

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Fans in general are usually more forgiving of homegrown youngsters rather than seasoned ones though and anyway proper judgement should be reserved until the new players have arrived to supplement a squad that still includes proven League One performers, who can reasonably be expected to improve, like Harrison Burrows, Ephron Mason-Clark, Kwame Poku and Hector Kyprianou.

A senior goalkeeper and pair of full-backs will presumably be high on Barry Fry’s to-do list as Posh don’t have any. If last season proved anything, it proved relying on rookie goalkeepers is an error unless you were Bolton Wanderers.

And it’s no certainty Taylor, Edwards and Clarke-Harris and co will have gone before the season starts. If Posh values aren’t met they won’t leave, although the need to service a club debt and sort out ownership issues could mean price tags have been cut. Rest assured a chunk of transfer money raised will be ploughed back into the playing squad. In the past Posh haven’t always needed much. The Holy Trinity cost around £500,000 between them.

One assumes the continued presence of Joel Randall at the club after two Football League starts in two seasons is an attempt, more in hope than expectation probably, to one day recoup some of the million pound invested in him. His value is currently zero.

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David Ajiboye is another surprise remainer. He is currently vying for the mantle of fourth-choice winger alongside Randall.

MacAnthony is on the record as saying Posh would have kept more clean sheets last season if lanky centre-back Manu Fernandes had been available to play more. The chairman reckons he could turn out to be another Ricardo Santos, although he had to leave Posh before he developed into a defensive monster. It will be interesting to see how Fernandes turns out. We might find out early with Frankie Kent and Josh Knight available for transfer and Edwards set to depart.

It could even be fun finding out. Will the forward line become more flexible without Clarke-Harris for a start? It will certainly be quicker.

The bottom line though, and there’s always a bottom line as a Wigan Athletic team set to start the season on at least -8 points know too well, is a season of on-field mediocity would be worth it if debt levels come down considerably, if the worrying ownership situation is resolved, if there is progress on a new stadium, a sports bar appears at the Weston Homes Stadium and if there is enough promise and potential on the pitch to suggest the Championship will be a realistic target the following season.