It’s the 10th anniversary of one of the great Posh days when ‘a side more flamboyant than a scantily-clad Brazilian during Rio Carnival’ was wound up by a Huddersfield team ‘who seemed ready to party before the game.’ Relive the day with those closest to the action
Sunday May 29, 2011 will be a date forever etched on the minds of Peterborough fans.
That was the day Posh beat Huddersfield 3-0 at Old Trafford in the League One play-off final to secure an immediate return to the Championship.
The 10-year anniversary of that victory at the Theatre of Dreams is today and the PT remembers a momentous day with the help of those Posh folk closest to the action.
The appointment of Gary Johnson as Posh manager in succession to Mark Cooper and Jim Gannon in April, 2010 ‘shook the football world,’ according to excitable Posh director of football Barry Fry.
Johnson arrived too late to save Posh from relegation from the Championship, but he signed Grant McCann and Lee Tomlin in the summer so a strong League One promotion push was expected.
Instead it was an inconsistent campaign and when Darren Ferguson was sacked by Preston in December, Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony set the wheels in motion for an emotional return for a man he had sacked 15 months earlier.
Ferguson said: “When I left Preston I could have kept out of the way for a while, but I wanted to repair my reputation as soon as possible so I thank the chairman for giving me the opportunity. There was so much talent in the squad I knew we could get back up.”
Posh were seventh so Johnson had laid solid foundations.
Posh improved under Ferguson, but could only manage a fourth-place finish, eight points behind third-placed Huddersfield who they would now meet in the play-off final after semi-final wins over MK Dons and Bournmemouth respectively.
Worryingly Huddersfield hadn’t lost a league game in 2011....
the night before
The team gathered to watch Manchester United, who were managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, Darren’s father, lose to Barcelona in the Champions League Final. Mark Little wore a United strip, Lee Tomlin wore a Barcelona shirt to wind Darren Ferguson up.
“The lads were in good spirits,” Ferguson recalled. “We were expecting a tough game, but we were confident.”
arrival at Old Trafford
Posh centre-back Gaby Zakuani: “I damaged my shoulder in the semi-final and I was still sore ahead of the final. I sat on the medical bench at Old Trafford taking tablets and having injections, but adrenaline and the fact my family were in the stand made me play through the pain.”
Posh fans were expecting to be heavily outnumbered at Old Trafford. The official attendance was 48,410 with approximately 15,000 from Posh. Huddersfield had placed ‘Believe’ posters on the seats assigned to their fans.
Posh defender Ryan Bennett: “There was always needle when we played Huddersfield and when we saw they had stuff all over their fans’ seats it spurred us on. It looked like they had forgotten all about us and were planning a party.
“When we went back into the dressing room we saw Jordan Rhodes wasn’t on the Huddersfield teamsheet which was a shock as we had prepared as though he was playing. He was flying at the time.”
Posh full-back Charlie Lee: “I hadn’t been picked to start after getting sent off in the semi-final first leg. To be fair I would have picked Grant Basey as well!”
Line-ups: Huddersfield: Bennett, Hunt, Clarke, Kay, Naysmith, Roberts, Kilbane, Peltier, Arfield, Ward, Afobe. Subs: Colgan, McCombe, Gudjonsson, Cadamarteri, Novak, Lee, Rhodes.
Posh: Jones, Little, Bennett, Zakuani, Basey, Wesolowski, McCann, Rowe, Boyd, Tomlin, Mackail-Smith. Subs: Richardson, Langmead, Lee, Ball, Whelpdale, Mendez-Laing, Newell.
The BBC reported: ‘Here’s why you should stick around for this one. Peterborough are more flamboyant than a scantily-clad Brazilian during Rio Carnival, have scored more league goals than any other side in the country - 106 - and pay about as much attention to defence as a Kevin Keegan-Ossie Ardiles lovechild.’
Ryan Bennett: “For the first 25 minutes I felt we were in for a long day as we struggled.”
Craig Mackail-Smith, who started the match on 98 Posh goals: “The back four were unbelievable in that first-half. They kept Huddersfield at bay, while I missed a couple of chances at the other end. We fancied we would win if we kept a clean sheet as we had so much firepower.”
Gaby Zakuani: “They played a lot of balls into our box, but we headed them all out!”
Darren Ferguson: “It had been a scrappy first-half, but I just told the players to keep believing, keep things tight and be ruthless when the scoring chances came.”
Charlie Lee: “Grant Basey looked knackered at half-time so the manager told me to get ready to come on. I was more than ready. I was desperate to get on.”
The BBC man wasn’t impressed with Posh as the match reached the 75 minute mark: “Peterborough have looked a little ragged in the second half, while their opponents are playing with a resolve and desire missing through most of the opening 45 minutes. George Boyd has faded and it looks as though Kevin Kilbane is doing a pretty good job of limiting his influence on the game. Not seen much of Craig Mackail-Smith this half either.”
Charlie Lee: “I want on and was booked within a minute!”
Darren Ferguson: “I knew we would win if we kept a clean sheet and then Grant McCann slung in the perfect cross and Tommy Rowe scored...”
Tommy Rowe: “They had a little spell after half-time when they put us under a lot of pressure. But we held out and Grant (McCann) swung in a great free-kick and I managed to get my head on it and it flew in.”
Huddersfield belatedly got Jordan Rhodes ready to some on, but just before he stepped foot on the pitch...
Craig Mackail-Smith: “The opening goal filled us with confidence and scoring again so quickly really killed them off. Boydy played the ball to me, I shot and it deflected past the goalkeeper (former Posh player Ian Bennett). I was beside myself. We knew we had won.”
They hadn’t finished scoring though as skipper Grant McCann lined up a free kick from the edge of the area two minutes from time...
Grant McCann: “That’s the best goal I’ve scored and it was right in front of our fans. I hit the ball sweetly and just where I was aiming. I tore off towards our bench. It was a great feeling.”
Darren Ferguson: “People told me winning promotion through the play-offs was the best way to go up. I wasn’t so sure about that, but now I’ve experienced it I have to agree.
“It was a fantastic occasion in a great stadium and I am a very proud man right now.”
Grant McCann: “This is my third time promoted through the play-offs and this is probably the most special yet. Lifting the trophy was the best moment of my career.”
Ferguson phoned his father before he left the Old Trafford pitch: “My dad was thrilled for me. I wanted to win to put a smile back on his face after last night.
“The chairman showed a lot of bottle to come back and get me. That’s not me being arrogant and I would not have come back if I had not been confident we could get back to the Championship.
Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony: “Words can’t describe the pride I’m feeling for our so-called small football team. Every player and every member of staff was majestic and they will all go down in history. Who needs 35,000 fans when you have 15,000 proper Posh fans willing us on? Let the good times roll!”
Posh goalscorer Craig Mackail-Smith pretty much confirmed his departure after the game: “If this turns out to be my last game in a Peterborough shirt, I couldn’t have asked for any better way for it to end. To go up in front of so many brilliant fans and in such a stunning arena was something special.
“It has been a really special time and any footballer would be proud to have been a part of three promotions and this has to be the most enjoyable of them all.”
Popular full-back Charlie Lee was one of four Posh play-off heroes who were released within a week of helping to secure promotion. Left-back Grant Basey and midfielder James Wesolowski and winger Chris Whelpdale were the others.
Top scorer Craig Mackail-Smith moved to Championship side Brighton for £2.5 million, but the rest stayed to play in the Championship.
Lee recalled: “It was a real downer to be told I wasn’t wanted the following season as I was desperate for another crack at the Championship.
“Initially I told the manager I wasn’t going to leave and that I would stay and fight for my place.
“When Darren Ferguson returned to the club he couldn’t understand why I hadn’t been playing and he restored me to the side so I thought he would keep me on even if I wasn’t first choice.
“But I’d been on loan at Gillingham earlier that seasnon and enjoyed it so when they asked me to go back I signed and won another promotion with them.”