The Clarke-Harris debate hots up, Fergie won the tactical battle if not the game, set-piece woes won’t go away and referees need to start protecting Siriki Dembele

The Johnson Clarke-Harris debate is a healthy one with strong arguments for against his inclusion in the Peterborough United starting line-up.

By Alan Swann
Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 10:08 am
Posh star Sirki Dembele is scythed down by Sorba Thomas of Huddersfield. Photo: David Lowndes.
Posh star Sirki Dembele is scythed down by Sorba Thomas of Huddersfield. Photo: David Lowndes.

Would Posh have played so well against QPR in their previous home game with Clarke-Harris in the side? It’s doubtful.

But would Posh have got back into the game against Huddersfield last night if Clarke-Harris hadn’t been on the pitch? Also doubtful.

Opposition styles could be the key. QPR played an expansive, attacking game and left holes for the likes of Siriki Dembele and Sammie Szmodics to exploit.

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Posh forward Siriki Dembele flies through the air after the foul by Huddersfield's Sorba Thomas. Photo: David Lowndes.

Huddersfield are far more cautious. They suffocated the midfield and Posh couldn’t get out of their own half very easily. There was no space, no time on the ball, and no out ball until Clarke-Harris arrived to help transform the game.

Posh still weren’t great, but they at least had an attacking presence which demanded attention from defenders. They had physique in the form of Clarke-Harris as well as skilful, speedy runners to contend with and centre-backs, who had all the time in the world before the break, were suddenly rushing clearances, often out of play.

To be frank the change could have been made after half an hour.

What happens Saturday will be interesting as Fulham are more like QPR than Huddersfield. Mobility might well be more important than strength.

Jonson Clarke-Harris and Sammie Szmodics in action for Posh against Huddersfield. Photo: David Lowndes.


1) The players looked like they enjoyed the presence of Clarke-Harris. Certainly the accompanying formation change to a flat back four freed Harrison Burrows into a busy, bright attacking player and left behind the rather nervous defensive player on view in the first half. Sammie Szmodics also thrived on the big man alongside him. His running, chasing and pressing enthused the Posh fans. It must be easier for some with Clarke-Harris in the side. A cross could lead to a goal as it did again last night and it wasn’t the first time the first time Burrows and Clarke-Harris have linked up to score. Joe Ward is someone who has missed last season’s top scorer.

2) The suspension of Nathan Thompson from the visit of Fulham on Saturday will probably ensure wing-backs will be retained. Posh have no other right-back at the club apart from young Benjamin Mensah so it could mean a recall for Frankie Kent to play alongside Ronnie Edwards and Mark Beevers. A 3-4-2-1 formation still enables Ferguson to start with Clarke-Harris, Dembele and Szmodics if he wishes.

3) It was pleasing Ferguson’s 500th game didn’t end in defeat. He won the tactical battle with opposite number Carlos Corberan if not the game. Ferguson made positive changes when the game was goalless as he wanted to win, while Corberan seemed happy to let the game drift in the hope they’d score yet another set-piece goal. They did, but the manager’s immediate response was to take off their best player Duane Holmes and replace him with another centre-back which was a weird tactic for a team fifth in the table against a relegation battler. The move gave Thompson licence to bomb forward, Posh were able to press higher as a team, midfielders started appearing near the Huddersfield box and eventually the pressure told. The visitors then slowed the game down at every opportunity and appeared grateful for a point. It’s an approach that won’t keep them in the top six.

Sammie Szmodics of Posh is just beaten to the ball by Huddersfield goalkeeper Lee Nicholls. Photo: David Lowndes.

4) Huddersfield have now scored from 10 corners in the Championship this season, half of their total number of goals. Their joint top scorer before last night was a centre-back. Set plays are a vital source of goals for teams that create little from open play. Set pieces are a problem for Posh at both ends of the field despite the presence of a specialist coach. Chairman Darragh MacAnthony caused an eyebrow or two to raise at Monday’s fans’ forum when he said Posh had shown improvement in this area, while last night Ferguson asked the players to take more responsibility, certainly when defending corners. Size is an issue for Posh. The return of Clarke-Harris would help, although he has rarely scored from a corner.

5) Look at the first couple of photos attached to this piece. The tactical fouling of Dembele is not subtle and referees must be aware of it. It happens every game. Five opposition players have been cautioned in the last two Posh matches, four for fouls on Dembele. David Lowndes’ photo suggests Sorba Thomas was lucky not to be sent off for what was a high kick on an opponent rather than a trip, but referee Keith Stroud, one of football’s more eccentric officials, showed only yellow which is more than he showed when Dembele was taken out right in front of him in the last act of the first half. A more blatant caution is hard to envisage, but instead Stroud decided to blow for half-time. Truly bizarre to give so much licence to hackers.