League tables do lie, even after 38 games.
Those lucky enough not to have watched Peterborough United regularly since the end of October could take a cursory look at the League One standings and be confident of an exciting end to the season. Two points off the play-offs, a favourable-looking set of remaining fixtures and Darren Ferguson in charge, the man with the most Posh promotions on his CV and the last manager to engineer a top six finish for the club.
The reality is somewhat different as Ferguson admitted after a third straight defeat, this one by a 2-1 margin at home to an impressive Coventry team, one with a far more realistic chance of making the top six.
“Why would anyone give us a prayer?” Ferguson asked. “Our form over the last four months is relegation form. I wouldn’t think many of our fans are confident we will finish in the play-offs. I can’t blame them for that.”
Ferguson was hired with Posh in sixth. They’d just battled to a decent home draw with Charlton when the manager who assembled the squad was surprisingly sacked. The collapse over the next nine matches might well still have happened under Steve Evans, but we will never know for sure. That’s what the Posh decison-makers must live with after changing tack so abruptly, and so unsuccessfully, for the second February in a row.
Ferguson is a long-term appointment apparently, which is just as well as short-term the side have continued to decline at a steady rate. Ferguson admitted he is ‘embarrassed’ by six defeats and just two wins since he returned. The club’s fanbase, at a time season tickets for 2019-20 are being hawked, are way beyond embarrassment. Many are furious and, more worrying in a way, that could soon turn to general apathy as Posh finish another season in no-man’s land. Only just over 5,000 Posh fans turned up for a big game yesterday (March 16) with all the atmosphere supplied by Coventry’s outstanding support.
The gamble Posh took in appointing Ferguson appears to have been based on romance and a desire to see the back of a confrontational management team as much as good sense. Asking anyone to re-create the play-off promotion glory of 2010-11 was a long-shot with this group of players. It’s half-worked as the Posh defence is as dodgy now as it was back then - that team conceded more goals than the bottom two - but there is no sign of the attacking brilliance that saw Posh see off a current Premier League side on an unforgettable afternoon at Old Trafford and join two other current Premier League teams in winning promotion to the Championship. That was a quality division - Bournemouth were among those left trailling - unlike the one Posh are curently contesting.
The fact that a frail Posh side lacking leaders and any sort of pace are just two points outside the top six is proof of the sheer ordinariness of the competition. It’s actually not that unlikely that Posh will jump above sixth-placed Doncaster next weekend as one of the few teams in worse form than Ferguson’s men, Southend, are at the ABAX Stadium, while Donny are away to leaders Luton, but you’d be incredibly partisan or pretty daft to back Posh to beat anyone right now.
To be fair Posh weren’t at all bad in the first-half against Coventry. A repeat of the first 45 minutes in the previous two games against the division’s bottom two might well have yielded wins, but as Ferguson rightly pointed out afterwards as soon as his side fall behind they fall apart. Coventry were so dominant after the break, when they utilised the wind superbly and exposed the folly of playing two full-backs in central defensive positions, they could easily have scored more goals. Amadou Bakayoko was unfortunate to see a header ruled out for a push, while Lee Tomlin, only a substitute again, accidentally kicking Luke Thomas in the eye didn’t warrant a penalty according to referee Michael Salisbury, a decision he might have regretted when the Coventry midfielder was stretchered off after an eight-minute delay.
Bakayoko had fired Coventry ahead just before the break after Ben White had given possession away in his own half and Bright Enobakhare added a second goal soon after the re-start after Posh had failed dismally to deal with a huge punt upfield by goalkeeper Lee Burge. It was a goal you’d be disappointed to concede on a Sunday morning and Posh only responded with a 98th-minute strike from Louis Reed which needed a generous deflection to dribble past the impressive Burge.
The fact Burge also made good saves to thwart Callum Cooke and Matt Godden when the score was goalless is hope of sorts, but the sight of birthday boy Ivan Toney falling over when clean through on the hour was a more accurate comment on this Posh team’s plight.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Jason Naismith, Ben White, Daniel Lafferty, Joe Ward, Tyler Denton (sub Lee Tomlin, 56 mins), Louis Reed, Callum Cooke (sub Kyle Dempsey, 46 mins), Marcus Maddison, Ivan Toney, Matt Godden.
Unused substitutes: Aaron Chapman, Alex Woodyard, Rhys Bennett, George Cooper, Matty Stevens.
Coventry: Lee Burge, Brandon Mason (sub Junior Brown, 58 mins), Jordan Willis, Dom Hyam, Dujon Sterling, Liam Kelly, Tom Bayliss, Luke Thomas (sub Jordan Shipley, 74 mins), Bright Enobakhare, Jordy Hiwula, Amadoe Bakayoko.
Unused substitutes: Corey Addai, Jack Grimmer, David Meyler, Jordan Ponticelli, Charlie Wakefield.
Goals: Posh - Reed (90 + 8 mins).
Coventry - Bakayoko (44 mins), Enobakhare (49 mins).
Cautions: Posh - O’Malley (foul), Naismith (foul), Tomlin (foul).
Referee: Michael Salisbury 6.
Attendance: 7,084 (1,888 Coventry).