Should he stay or should he go? The Peterborough United dilemma for Darragh MacAnthony and Darren Ferguson
Come the end of the season, do they stick together and continue their 16-year on-off bromance?
Or will they part company for a fourth time leaving MacAnthony with a frantic hunt for a sucessor?
One suspects the decision is in Ferguson’s hands. I’m confident MacAnthony will not want the stress of searching for a new boss while also sorting out potentially damaging off-field issues this summer.
If Ferguson wants to stay he probably will and I have no reason to disbelieve him when he says talks won’t start until the current campaign is over. It’s likely to be a quick conversation either way as time will be of the essence. Plans for next season will need to quickly be in place no matter what division Posh find themselves in.
Weirdly the more success Ferguson delivers this season the less I’d favour his continued presence at the Weston Homes Stadium.
But if the Posh season ends in disappointment in Barnsley on Sunday, or further down the road in the play-offs, there’s no other manager I’d want at London Road to oversee a League One promotion push, or even a season of stability if there are pressing financial issues, in the 2023-24 season.
I had my reservations when he returned to the club for a fourth stint as manager in January. Temporary contracts don’t tend to work. Why would players take too much notice of a man not committed to the club beyond the next four months?
But Ferguson at Peterborough United does work and it has again regardless of what happens this weekend. Posh have picked up 39 points from 21 games under the five-time promotion-winner (four with Posh, one with Doncaster) and if that points per game return had started a month earlier a play-off spot would already have been guaranteed.
Okay a thin squad appears to have hit the wall in recent weeks, but for this set of players to still have a chance – admittedly only an outside one – of promotion with a game to go is a decent achievement given the standard and status of the six teams currently above them. It certainly didn’t look likely after that miserable 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Wycombe Wanderers on New Year’s Day, one that saw off previous manager Grant McCann.
I don’t expect Posh to go up. I’d be surprised if they won at Barnsley and sneaked into sixth spot. I’d be amazed if they followed that up by beating Sheffield Wednesday – a team currently 19 points up on Posh – in a two-legged play-off semi-final.
If they did, and then beat either Barnsley or Bolton in a Wembley final, then I’d be surprised to see Ferguson stay. His obvious affection for the club aside, I’m not sure he’d even want the strain of battling against the odds to try and keep Posh in the Championship. It didn’t happen for a better team than this one following Ferguson’s last Posh promotion just two years ago despite two rival teams having 27 point deductions between them.
Ephron Mason-Clark and Kwame Poku have potential, but they are not yet Siriki Dembele and Sammie Szmodics. I know Ferguson believes he can manage successfully at Championship level, but I can’t see it happening at Posh, especially as the likes of Jack Taylor and Ronnie Edwards, two players who could make the step up comfortably, could well leave London Road this summer, no matter what happens in the next month, as the club look to reduce their current debt levels.
If Posh go up that would be the time to look for a fresh face, one with new ideas, one who could think outside the box to take bigger, stronger clubs by surprise. If Posh stay where they are, there is no need to take a risk on a rookie boss when they have a proven winner in situ. MacAnthony is not known for patience where managerial appointments are concerned.
As an aside MacAnthony is known to be a fan of Brian Barry-Murphy, a former Rochdale manager with a love of stylish football who is currently doing great things with Manchester City’s younger teams.
Some Posh fans will look enviously at the success of a former Manchester United coach Kieran McKenna in his first senior managerial post at Ipswich Town this season, but he has achieved his success at a much bigger club with huge financial resources.
There will be no million-pound Posh signings this summer. MacAnthony has said the playing squad will be refreshed. Players will come and go, but those arriving are likely to be from lower down the football food chain.
There is no problem with that given the Posh record of recruitment from non-league football, and who was it who helped turn Craig Mackail-Smith, George Boyd and Aaron Mclean into Premier League players?
Darren Ferguson of course. He ticks an important Posh box of believing and trusting in younger players, while also delivering results, as long as the club is in League One.