Memories of a Peterborough United legend shouldn’t be tarnished by the last six months

The reign of a football manager - like the reign of a Prime Minister - rarely ends well, no matter how much success is enjoyed.

By Alan Swann
Sunday, 20th February 2022, 8:03 pm
Updated Sunday, 20th February 2022, 9:13 pm

Three times Peterborough United have appointed Darren Ferguson as first-team manager and each time he’s delivered a promotion. In one spell, his first after a left-field appointment by chairman Darragh MacAnthony in January, 2007, he delivered two.

But he was sacked twice, once when Posh had slumped to the bottom of the Championship in 2009 and once after a hopeless performance in a 3-0 League One defeat at MK Dons in 2015. This is the first time he’s resigned. At least, in what is surely his last stint as Posh boss, he got to leave on his own terms. A club legend, as he will surely be seen even by those who have spent the last few months abusing a decent man on social media, deserved that.

It’s an honourable exit by a manager who was viewed as bullet proof by the owners in October. He signed a new contract in November and MacAnthony was busy backing his manager and friend only last week on his ‘Hard Truth’ podcast. The chairman had said he’d rather sack the players and let Ferguson start again with a new squad. If only it was that simple.

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Darren Ferguson celebrates promotion from League One with Sammie Szmodics last May.

Some will say Ferguson should have left a while ago. Some will even say he should have left as soon as that club record fourth promotion was confirmed last May such is his poor record at Championship level.

But is that really fair? Ignore the arrogant bluster of last summer. Posh are always punching above their financial weight at Championship level, although not to the extent of picking up 21 points in 31 matches, while failing to score in 18 of them.

Ferguson has under-performed this season. He will admit that. He’s fallen on his sword here to perhaps give Posh one last shot at performing a miracle escape.

Little he has tried this season has worked. Recruitment failed, playing systems flopped and players either struggled to live up to reputations or weren’t good enough in the first place. Ferguson can share some of that blame, but the star man wanting to leave while appearing to have no interest in fighting for the club who rescued him from Grimsby Town can’t be laid at his door.

Former Posh manager Darren Ferguson and Ivan Toney.

There were fleeting performances of promise this season. Millwall, QPR and Birmingham were all beaten at London Road with style, but away trips quickly became a horror show. Was motivation an issue? Ironically Posh have just delivered three successive full-on committed displays in a row which suggested Ferguson hadn’t lost the dressing room. No goals and just one point in those games just suggested he had simply lost his managerial mojo.

But it’s important not to remember Ferguson just for the last six months. He returned to Posh in January 2019 as a replacement for Steve Evans and took his team to within a point of the play-offs after a slow start with a squad that had been enduring a steady decline, albeit one in sixth place when he took over.

The following season a golden opportunity of automatic promotion was wrecked by Covid and EFL incompetence when Ivan Toney was in rampant form. Toney became a formidable forward under Ferguson and will doubtless join the likes of Craig Mackail-Smith, Aaron Mclean and George Boyd in thanking their former Posh boss for accelerating their careers.

Last season of course brought that fourth promotion. Ironically it was also the beginning of the end of the boss as the gulf in financial clout between his club and some big-hitters became too much, although the continued success of Blackpool and Luton counters that particular argument.

Posh manager Darren Ferguson frustrated by a performance earlier this month.

It’s unlikely Posh will be saved this season no matter who is appointed. Even under ultra-successful veteran Neil Warnock if he fancied one mighty final career challenge.

It’s surely too big a step up for assistant manager Matthew Etherington, who remains a coaching rookie, but two former bosses Steve Evans and Grant McCann still live locally and are currently unemployed.

Maybe a short-term appointment will be made. We will find out soon as there’s the small matter of a trip to Championship leaders Fulham on Wednesday (February 23) with an FA Cup tie against Manchester City also on the horizon.

The pressure will certainly be on MacAnthony who has just lost the only successful managerial appointment he has ever made in 15 and a half years at London Road.