Alan Swann’s Crystal Ball: Peterborough United boss Darren Ferguson says he is 90% sure of his best team which is pretty impressive as I reckon he faces some tough selections:
In fact the only certainties for selection in my opinion are goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik, right-back Mark Little and top-scoring striker Britt Assombalonga.
Central defence remains a thorny issue, there are a few candidates for left-back, the midfield selection is a minefield and there are two top candidates to partner Assombalonga.
The formation Ferguson chooses is obviously key and I hope he ditches his midfield diamond and plays a 4-4-1-1 formation.
With the players at his dispoasl this is still an attacking line-up and crucially it gets Grant McCann into the starting line-up and, as Ferguson stated after the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final, there is no substitute for big-game experience.
McCann and Jack Payne were excellent together towards the end of last season, but if you play the diamond it only lets one of them into the team.
The right side of midfield is a tough one for Ferguson.
Up until his injury suffered in the recent Coventry match Danny Swanson was a shoo-in.
The little Scot has been one of the team’s most-consistent players of 2014 - he was quite brilliant in the opening 20 minutes against Coventry - but his absence left the door open for on-loan wingerLloyd Isgrove to strut his stuff.
Often late cameo appearances from the substitutes’ bench can be misleading, but Isgrove has been outstanding from the start of the last two Posh matches and his extra pace can help his side play at a tempo capable of upsetting even the best teams.
Isgrove has struggled to see out the full 90 minutes, but that hardly matters when Posh have Swanson and Nat Mendez-Laing in reserve.
Mendez-Laing andIsgrove have the advantage of being fresh at the end of a long season.
Skipper Tommy Rowe has rarely been at his best this season, but his class demands his presence. He could play at left-back, but Kgosi Ntlhe’s recent form suggests Rowe will be employed in a wide left role with a licence to cut inside and cause havoc.
Ntlhe has fought off opposition from Craig Alcock to play on the left side of the back four. His attacking ability gives him an obvious edge.
The centre of defence has been a Posh problem since Gaby Zakuani’s departure. If the DR Congo international was still at London Road he’d surely be an automatic choice alongside Michael Bostwick.
Ferguson is likely instead to partner Bostwick with Jack Baldwin, a player who has yet to completely justify his £500k transfer fee.
I’d play him though as Shaun Brisley is better in a three-man centre-back system and Nat Knight-Percival has barely played in recent weeks. Baldwin needs to tread carefully though as he’s picked up 13 cautions this season and 15 yellow cards triggers a ban.
Three weeks ago I’d have said Nicky Ajose was the only option to partner Assombalonga. Ajose’s form has been a bonus since his return from Swindon and he’s shown a pleasing adaptability to perform well in numerous attacking positions.
But Conor Washington has emerged from a goal drought to hit some serious form in recent games.
His pace and strength are a real asset, but I’d use them from the substitutes’ bench and ask Ajose to play just behind Assombalonga.
It’s obvious that Posh do have some serious strength in depth. A substitutes’ bench including Swanson, Mendez-laing and Washington could well be the envy of the other play-off contenders.
I’d have Josh McQuoid on the bench ahead of Joe Newell because of his greater experience and reliability.
On-loan McQuoid can play in both semi-finals, but not the final.
Centre-back Ben Nugent returns to Cardiff after the first semi-final which may well count against him, while Isgrove is available for the entire play-off programme.
The team (4-4-2):
Mark Little - Jack Baldwin - Michael Bostwick - Kgosi Ntlhe
Lloyd Isgrove - Jack Payne - Grant McCann - Tommy Rowe
Nicky Ajose - Britt Assombalonga
On The Bench:
Joe Day, Craig Alcock, Danny Swanson, Conor Washington, Josh McQuoid, Nat Mendez-Laing, Nat Knight-Percival