FEATURE: Where did it all go wrong for Peterborough United in 2017/18?

Posh manager Grant McCann before his last match in charge, a 1-1 home draw with AFC Wimbledon.
Posh manager Grant McCann before his last match in charge, a 1-1 home draw with AFC Wimbledon.
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Peterborough United are set for a sixth straight season in League One.

Pre-Darragh MacAnthony that would have been a cause for celebration, but now it’s a massive frustration for the club and its supporters. So where did it all go wrong?:

Posh manager Steve Evans couldn't inspire the necessary improvement.

Posh manager Steve Evans couldn't inspire the necessary improvement.

Grant McCann

First the good news. McCann should be applauded loudly for gambling on a reserve striker from Luton Town and turning him into a lethal League One striker.

He should also be praised for a fast start as Posh won their first four League One matches despite playing a formation that at first glance didn’t appear to suit the players at his disposal. He employed a wing-back system despite having no-one in his squad with experience in the role.

The more cynical would suggest he was saved from criticism by the form of Gwion Edwards, three solid centre-backs and the goals of Jack Marriott, but the buck stops with the manager when results are bad so it’s only fair to laud him when things go well.

Omar Bogle was a terrible Posh signing.

Omar Bogle was a terrible Posh signing.

McCann boasted he had assembled a ‘team of winners’, who were pretty soon downgraded to ‘a good bunch of lads’ when the wins dried up.

I’ve never known a manager make so many substitutions that had an adverse effect on a game, something that hinted at a lack of depth in the squad. Changing a game when it’s slipping away is a skill, but too often McCann would wait too long and then make poor decisions.

His game management skills also failed him. For example Posh were 2-0 up as injury-time approached at Charlton in October when a penalty for the home side appeared to panic McCann.

Instead of waiting for Posh to kick off and then slow the game down with a couple of substitutions he sent two players on when the watch had already stopped and Charlton rode their momentum and equalised.

Steven Taylor has been told he can leave Posh.

Steven Taylor has been told he can leave Posh.

The tactics when Posh failed miserably to break down the nine men of MK Dons for over an hour were embarrassing, particularly as the defeat stopped an excellent run of results in December.

As a club hero McCann was given more time and help than MacAnthony would normally allow (four transfer windows without a major sale for start), but he didn’t appear to be learning. He blew a major chance to start his managerial career with a bang. Appearances can be deceptive, but the arms-folded approach when Posh were labouring, often against teams in poor form, wasn’t a good look as far as fans were concerned.

Was MacAnthony right to sack McCann? Definitely. Should he have sacked him earlier? Most probably.

Steve Evans

Posh should try and sign Eoin Doyle.

Posh should try and sign Eoin Doyle.

A couple of weeks before McCann was fired, MacAnthony tweeted about employing a manager who would ‘frighten’ his players into improvement.

It was pretty much a description of the combative Evans who was soon in post after leaving Mansfield Town challenging for promotion from League Two.

A handsome home win over Charlton and a fortunate win at Bury followed, but there was always a suspicion that Evans had inherited a set of players unsuited to his preferred style of play.

They’d been playing slow-tempo football (not by design necessarily) whereas Evans wanted to get the ball forward much more quickly to Marriott and Marcus Maddison, an understandable ambition.

Posh were eighth when Evans took over and they remain eighth now with one game to go. They are further away from the top six points-wise so the change didn’t work.

But Evans can’t be blamed for the lop-sided squad he was forced to work with. He can’t be blamed for the shocking January transfer window signing of Omar Bogle, a striker with a dodgy attitude who has been back at Cardiff for the last month.

Changing managers so late in a season can work as League One rivals Charlton and Scunthorpe have proved, and that just increases the disappointment.

There is little chance of Evans enjoying as long a honeymoon period as his predecessor, certainly as far as Posh fans are concerned, but I believe he will relish the pressure.

Injuries

Assuming Gwion Edwards starts at Portsmouth on Saturday he will have started 25 League One games this season. He’s good enough for Posh to claim enough extra points would have been won to reach the top six if the Welshman had been available more often.

Evans was also unfortunate to lose Maddison and top centre-back Ryan Tafazolli at a crucial time. They both missed the recent run of four successive losses which ended the club’s play-off ambitions for good.

Even the loss of Junior Morias at Oldham in September was a blow. He had scored twice and helped turn a game against champions-elect Wigan four days earlier. That form never returned.

Referees

It’s a fact you tend to remember the bad decisions rather than the ones that fall in your favour, but my goodness Posh have suffered at the hands of the worst set of officials I can remember this season.

The ‘goal’ Morias was denied at Walsall, the handball goal Blackpool were awarded, the red card for Liam Shephard at Plymouth, the non red card for a Blackburn player, and the ‘goal’ Edwards saw wiped out at Rochdale are easy to recall as is the ‘goal’ Andrew Hughes saw disallowed against Southend.

That’s, probably, eight points right there, one more than the current gap to the top six. Bad results are always momentum killers as well.

Posh 2017-18 season review:

- Best and worst Peterborough United performances, biggest wins and heaviest losses, best and worst runs of form

- Stats: Peterborough United’s highs and lows in 2017-18

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Inconsistency

Posh took four points off champions-elect Wigan and form against the other promotion-chasers was decent, but too many bad results against struggling, out-of-form teams proved more decisive.

Gillingham were bottom of the table when they won at the ABAX, Oxford had lost three matches in a row when they smashed Posh 4-1 away from home, and, when it was all on the line, Posh lost at home to a desperately poor Rochdale side who played with 10 men for 40 minutes.

Damning stats

The loss of 30 points from winning positions has turned into a well-known fact. In contrast Posh only picked up 11 points from losing positions. Poor game management is the major flaw here.

The concession of late goals is another well-worn stat thrown at Posh, although the imbalance is not that great. Posh claimed four late goals (in the last 10 minutes) to pick up extra points, but conceded seven late goals to drop points.

Signings

To be so far from the play-offs when you have a 27-goal striker in Marriott is remarkable.

Steven Taylor was a good signing, Liam Shephard did okay as did Jonathan Bond, Danny Lloyd and Conor O’Malley.

Bogle was horrible, Michael Doughty, Joe Ward, Alex Penny and George Cooper have yet to contribute consistently, Idris Kanu was too young to be burdened with so much expectancy by McCann and Ricky Miller was a frustrating flop.

Player form

Of last season’s squad, some like Maddison, Tafazolli, Anthony Grant and Andrew Hughes receive pass marks, but others like Jack Baldwin, Leo Da Silva Lopes and Chris Forrester contributed very little.

One goal all season (Michael Doughty at Fleetwood) from central midfield is a scarily bad statistic.

Progress

Posh have improved their points tally for the second successive season, but only by a small amount (62 last season, 64 so far this) and small steps are not what a demanding chairman and fanbase want.

The standard of football hasn’t been good enough to make up for the probablity of a slightly improved finishing position (11th last season, anywhere between 8th-11th this season). Indeed Posh haven’t played consistently attractive and winning football since the first few months of Graham Westley’s reign as manager. Posh scored 82 goals that season (2015-16), 14 more than this season when League One’s top marksman has been present. McCann was the first-team coach then, but he lost his way in management.

And next season?

Sunderland look like having new owners, a better manager than Chris Coleman and they will attract top players for League One as they have an absurd £35 million parachute payment from the Premier League to cushion the blow of their own incompetence. If they don’t go straight back up I’ll be staggered.

I wouldn’t be concerned about the rest of the relegated teams, nor any of the teams coming up from League Two of which Luton will be the best.

The key for Posh will be how quickly Evans can get the expected abundance of new players to gel.

If the recruitment is good and Evans can re-create a team in the image of his League One promotion-winning Rotherham side of 2013-14, Posh can enjoy success. A play-off place at least is a must.

Oldham’s on-loan striker Eoin Doyle would be my first port of call if I was Evans.