Why Peterborough United can take full advantage of the impending chaos in League One
Peterborough United’s 2020-21 League One season will be like no other. That’s probably the only certainty.
It will be a survival of the fittest financially-speaking. Wealthy owners with a sound plan will be as vital as top management, expert coaching and quality players.
I will be amazed if all 24 clubs avoid going into administration. Bury’s collapse and Bolton’s relegation-condemning 12-point deduction which both preceded the 2019-20 campaign could seem relatively insignificant in 12 months time.
The new season will start behind closed doors which is exactly the scenario that prompted many to pull the drawbridge up and hide away last season. Unless that was one big con trick designed to avoid relegation or fall out of the promotion places and live off the UK Government (and a couple of those clubs have found money to sign new players this summer) surely the same problems will still be around?
The signs are already apparent. An alarming number of players are not having contracts renewed with an accompanying note from clubs detailing the terrible financial plight currently enveloping the lower divisions.
I have no wish to revel in the discomfort of rival clubs, but next season could be a golden opportunity for Posh to finally return to the Promised Land of the Championship.
The owners are in place. El Presidente Darragh MacAnthony’s passion and football knowledge remain intact and he’s partnered up wisely. Dr Jason Neale’s controlled fury during the recent EFL farce was eye-openingly impressive, while Stewart ‘Randy’ Thompson wasn’t shy in offering opinions that were hungrily lapped up by Posh fans.
The manager is also in place. I believe Darren Ferguson was robbed of a fourth Posh promotion by hopeless EFL dithering. Ferguson’s mojo was back last season, once he realised his beloved midfield diamond formation was no longer sparkling, and as long as Gavin Strachan and Ivan Toney are properly replaced, Posh won’t fail because of the work of the managerial team.
And as soon as the misery of a second successive seventh-place finish was confirmed how gratifying it has been to see Posh fans get behind their club, not just by making noise on social media, but by declining in numbers to demand entitled refunds on their season tickets.
That sort of togetherness fills me with Posh pride. It also fills with me confidence as far as the future direction of the club is concerned.
It won’t be easy of course. Posh have been tipped as promotion fancies every year since the cruellest of relegations from the Championship in May 2013, but only in that first season back in League One have they managed to even reach the play-offs, and then they fell at the first fence. That’s six long seasons without even coming close to going up.
Talk of ‘Vengeance Tours’ and ‘League One title-winning kits’ make me nervous, but, given a fair following wind, 2020-21 could be the year it all comes good.
Armed with even half of the £8 million I believe would be a decent price for Toney, Posh will be competing for the best of the many hundreds of players available for transfer.
Our expected rivals can’t say the same.
Of course if Sunderland, who no longer have the comfort blanket of parachute payments, find a better owner, if Ipswich find a better manager, and if Hull find a better owner and manager, those clubs are sure to benefit from their huge fanbases and challenge strongly.
Portsmouth, who already have a strong owner and a top manager, will surely also be better off than most next season.
Certainly Wycombe’s absence means the division will naturally become stronger, but losing play-off finallists Oxford, who cheekily pleaded with season ticket holders not to claim refunds even though the club ultimately voted to not to play their final home fixtures, are not showing much confidence in their own future.
The teams coming up look set to struggle. Swindon and Plymouth have already lost players, while Northampton’s kick and rush football won’t see them anywhere near the top. Crewe have always been vulnerable to vultures.
Traditionally clubs relegated from the Championship are favoured in League One, but the dodgy finances of second tier clubs has been exposed by the pandemic. Ludicrous wages in pursuit of Premier League millions could be a thing of the past.
Certainly a Hull team who shafted their ambitious manager by selling the club playing jewels in January can’t be trusted to bounce back.
On the surface Wigan should be nailed on for promotion after amassing 61 points in the Championship this season only to fall down because of a 12-point deduction for falling into administration. They are appealing that decision, but if, as seems likely, they fail, they could face a firesale of playing talent.
The same can be said at Charlton, a club who would automatically expect to challenge for promotion whenever in League One, but manager Lee Bowyer is not so sure.
Speaking after his side’s last-day relegation, he said: “We are losing so many players, loan players and players who are out of contract. How are we meant to rebuild?”