League 1 report: Spare a thought for Peterborough United chairman Darragh MacAnthony as he wrestles with the biggest dilemma of his time at the club.
Having decided against the traditional footballing method of dealing with terrible results and appalling performances he has tried to provoke a response from his players with contrasting approaches.
The good cop decision to take the squad away for a few days abroad in the sun failed. And now the bad cop routine of a public flogging on social media has failed as well.
What now for those in charge of motivation after Posh slipped to within five points of the drop zone after making it nine defeats in 12 at Port Vale today (January 17)? Barring wholesale arrivals - and why on earth should such a generous chairman keep putting his hand in his pocket when he is getting so little from some recent employees? - it’s hard at the moment to see how Posh pull out of a frightening nosedive.
Most fingers will again understandably be pointing at manager Darren Ferguson. A fine performance at a fans’ forum this week gained him a little more respect, but only for 48 hours as it turned out. Batting away questions from frustrated fans is clearly a lot easier than making a team of League One journeymen play like Real Madrid, or even Rochdale.
To be fair to Ferguson he didn’t himself miss either of two one-on-one opportunities or deliver a woefully weak headed backpass straight after half-time that ultimately cost Posh this game. But he should be more concerned at how little resistance his side put up once Vale adopted a more direct style of play of long balls and high pressing after the break.
For the next 30 minutes or so after falling behind Vale swarmed all over Posh and only two finger-tip stops from new goalkeeper Scott Loach and a good headed goal-line clearance from Jack Payne stopped the home side from romping clear. Posh rallied in the final 10 minutes, but a Joe Newell volley that skimmed across the six-yard box was the only time the 244 Posh fans behind that goal became excited.
Some would say Mourinho might struggle to improve the individual quality of these players, but it’s a fair bet he’d make them a lot harder to beat. League One teams must all fancy their chances of over-powering this set of players. Aaron Mclean should try and transplant his heart into some of them.
This was a chance for three points. Posh rarely attacked before Newell, with a precision pass, and Marcus Maddinson, with a low cross, set up Conor Washington’s scuffed goal in the 21st minute. Washington immediately spurned a one-one-one opportunity and, just as the home crowd were becoming agitated, Vale carved out a goal for Chris Birchall just after the half hour mark that would go down as well-crafted by them, but which Ferguson reckoned was a result of dozy defending by his players as a right wing cross and an unchallenged header gave the scorer a close-range tap-in.
Even so Maddison should have struck Posh back in front straight away after finding himself unmarked in front of goal eight yards out, but a weak shot was struck straight at Vale ‘keeper Chris Neal. Posh should have been 3-1 ahead at the break despite having far less possession than the home side.
Instead the second-half brought a predictable tale of home pressure and Posh capitulation, A moment of madness from Christian Burgess enabled Ben Williamson to shoot Vale in front and the home side’s simple yet effective tactics deservedly yielded three points.
This 4-2-3-1 formation has potential, especially away from home, but systems are irrelevant when major errors at both ends of the pitch are so regular. It was quickly abandoned when Posh went behind, but only when substitutes Luke James and Mclean arrived in a three-man forward line did Posh generate any pressure.
Newell did deliver the odd impressive burst forward and Michael Smith improved on his recent efforts, but Erhun Oztumer’s ball-hogging grated at times as did Kgosi Ntlhe’s lack of awareness when attacking or defending.
Harry Beautyman is ill-suited to a defensive midfield role, while the refusal to send on Kyle Vassell from the substitutes’ bench and the insistence of sending Nathaniel Mendez-Laing on every week also irritates.
The problems are just building up for Posh and in particular Ferguson. Even a dynamic chairman like MacAnthony is unable to ship out 15 players before the end of January. Far easier to replace one struggling personality. That home game on January 31 with a Yeovil side managed by a manager once sacked by MacAnthony just might become the tipping point.
Reaction: Fergie says Posh are a soft touch.
- The Fergie question: should he stay or go? - vote closes 21 January.
Posh: Scott Loach, Michael Smith, Kgosi Ntlhe (sub Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, 58 mins), Michael Bostwick, Christian Burgess, Jack Payne, Harry Beautyman (sub Luke James, 68 mins), Marcus Maddison, Erhun Oztumer (sub Aaron Mclean, 78 mins), Joe Newell, Conor Washington. Unused substitutes: Dion Henry, Kyle Vassell, Jermaine Anderson, Shaun Brisley.
Player ratings: Newell was the brightest of a dull bunch
Port Vale: Chris Neal, Adam Yates, Carl Dickinson, Chris Robertson, Frederic Veseli, Chris Birchall (sub Colin Daniel, 78 mins), Michael O’Connor, Michael Brown, Louis Dodds, Ben Williamson, Mark Marshall. Unused substitutes: Sam Johnson, Richard Duffy, Chris Lines, Byron Moore, Achille Campion, Dany N’Guessan.
Goals: Posh - Washington (21 mins).
Port Vale - Birchall (32 mins), Williamson (48 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Oztumer (foul)
Referee: Carl Berry 7.
Attendance: 4,446 (244 Posh).