The Peterborough United supporters ensured manager Darren Ferguson was sacked last night (February 21), writes Alan Swann.
Not by booing the boss as he oversaw a wretched display in defeat in his final game at MK Dons, but by singing their hearts out in a vain attempt to lift players lacking in confidence and encumbered by bizarre tactics and ridiculous substitutions in a match against their fiercest League One rivals. Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony, a fervant Ferguson fan, might well have realised between 4pm and 5pm that the club’s fans deserved better and called time on his great friend’s tenure at the ABAX Stadium a few hours later.
So Ferguson can add ‘rushed out of office by cheering fans’ as a unique point on his CV, alongside three promotions, one Johnstone Paint Trophy win, the second-best win percentage of any long-term Posh manager, the second-most games in charge and the manager when some of the greatest days in Posh history were played out. Posh fans enjoyed amazing experiences from Edgar Street to Old Trafford, from Colchester United FC to Wembley, all delivered, in part at least, by Ferguson, who has now also become the first Posh manager to be sacked twice.
MacAnthony’s decision to finally wield the axe is hard to criticise. It had been hanging over the manager’s head since an unfortunate defeat at Crewe in October heralded a run of dismal results and performances that pretty much continued without a pause upto yesterday afternoon. Posh remain closer to the play-off places than the relegation zone, but there was only one way this season was heading without last night’s drastic action.
Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing, but if Ferguson had left at the end of last season when Posh reached the League One play-off semi-finals, his legacy would have been secure in the minds of all but the most hard-to-please, over-excitable Posh fans. Despite over-staying his welcome, he should still be warmly received if he ever returns to Posh, even if he takes a place in the opposition manager’s dug-out.
Ferguson’s departure is just, but its a cause for commiseration not celebration. His last team selection, choice of formation and substitutions resembled a lengthy suicide note, but that, and a few more plainly daft decisions this season, shouldn’t be allowed to erase all the good. And there was plenty of it, not all explained by the tremendous fortune of working for a man keen to make a left-field appointment in the first place and then to back that move with millions made playing the property market.
Ferguson’s detractors will point out that he didn’t sign any of the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Aaron Mclean, Craig Mackail-Smith or George Boyd. It’s true, but would the late Keith Alexander have inspired them to their dizzy heights? Of course not and don’t just take my word for it, ask the players themselves.
Ferguson was a breath of fresh air when he turned up out of the blue one Saturday lunchtime in January 2007. His appointment was initially treated with incredulity by fans and by the media. He was a journeyman midfielder with Wrexham whose coaching experience was limited to that club’s under 15 side. His only positive appeared to be his surname.
Ferguson watched his team get thumped 3-0 at home by Stockport that day. His first game in charge was a 1-0 defeat at Lincoln. As starts go it was more gory than glory.
But from the day he walked through the door Ferguson promoted attacking, passing football played at a high tempo and he eventually delivered it in style. Clearly it was in his genes as was an often curmudgeonly approach to the local media. That never mattered as those in the press box were just as impressed as those on the terrace as wins and goals flooded in.
Back-to-back promotions followed for just the second time in Posh history in Ferguson’s first two full seasons in charge before a clash of mighty egos between manager and chairman meant a parting of the ways with Posh stuck at the bottom of the Championship. The team never recovered until Ferguson returned, almost four years to the day of his first appointment.
Posh were seventh in League One when he arrived, but the ‘Mac Attack’ really had carried Gary Johnson’s team for most of that season. With Ferguson came consistency and a 3-0 win in the League One play-off final against Huddersfield, at Old Trafford of all places, as some even started to suggest he might follow his old man and one day manage Manchester United.
Sadly he wouldn’t right now be a shoo-in for the Mansfield Town job. Posh played pluckily for two seasons in the Championship, but a mad seven-minute spell at Crystal Palace on the final day of the 2012-13 season has had a lasting, damaging effect on the club, the chairman and the manager.
Selhurst Park survival might have led to Dwight Gayle and Lee Tomlin staying at Posh. Championship income might well have led to the club competing as well at that level as Brentford and Bournemouth. Instead relegation ripped the heart out of many, most obviously the manager.
Ferguson has been a pale imitation of his former self in these last two campaigns. He’s not stupid, but he is most certainly stubborn and he most definitely went stale.
Posh limped into the play-offs before sliding out of them quickly last season. Many of us thought that might be the end of an era, but instead Ferguson signed a fresh three-year deal and started talking gobbledegook about improved training facilities being the most important expenditure of the summer and Jermaine Anderson being as good as Dele Alli. His faithful assistant Kevin Russell was a summer departure which might now be a regret,
A fast start this season didn’t fool too many fans. The speed of the descent has been a surprise though and has proved too much for MacAntony who may well have feared his club were heading out of League One in the wrong direction. His decision might be seen as a long time coming by some, but it was ultimately brutal with five senior members of staff sent packing at the same time - even the match video analyst wasn’t spared
It’s a sad end to a fine Posh career for Ferguson. He made mistakes - for every Dwight Gayle there was a Liam Hatch - but he also oversaw seasons with 100 goals on his way to compiling an impressive set of statistics. He was also far more passionate than the amateur students of body language within the Posh support would realise.
That passion hasn’t transferred to the players though. If he hadn’t lost the dressing room, he’d clearly misplaced it. Those players now owe the fans and their chairman a big few performances to ensure the club is not sucked into a relegation battle, Better to keep playing against MK Dons than Cambridge or Cobblers.