Peterborough United manager Darren Ferguson secured his first decisive victory for several months tonight (January 15). Probably because there weren’t any players around to muck it up for him.
Ferguson arranged this fans’ forum, pretty much hosted it and then controlled it for an hour with nothing more than some straight batting and the odd admission of guilt. Roy Hodgson would like Fergie - the Posh boss lacks flair as a public speaker, but he didn’t shirk a single tackle. He emerged from most with no obvious personal damage.
Using social media as the yardstick some thought Ferguson was throwing himself to the lions by meeting 150 passionate Posh fans while his team were on a run of five points from 11 League One matches. One can only assume his most vocal on-line and Twitter detractors are either pussycats in public or, rather limply, didn’t make the effort to confront the object of their hatred.
And ‘hatred’ isn’t, although should be, too strong a word. One member of the crowd started his. rather forgettable, question with ‘I’m a Fergie hater’, but as the room braced itself for a tirade of abuse, he went to on praise the manager for ‘having the balls to attend such a meeting’.
Ferguson wasn’t above uttering the odd rude word either, much to the approval of his director of football, Barry Fry who once won the ‘most swear words in a 60-minute documentary’ Oscar. Club chief executive officer Bob Symns was also in attendance and spoke just once to reveal that the much-maligned playing surface at The ABAX Stadium was under review. The grass had caught a disease apparently which, on top of 21 individual injuries to humans, really does make this a season with little luck.
Anyway Ferguson performing well in the Caroline Hand Executive Suite won’t of course affect the result at Port Vale on Saturday (January 17), although, until 5pm at least, it might earn him slightly more respect from some who prefer to deliver abuse rather than affection.
Ferguson’s tone was perfect. There was no attempt to bluster by making excuses, there was no attempt to confuse by complicating issues that are obvious to everyone. Ricardo Santos is struggling, the team lose too many games that they should draw, automatic promotion is now impossible, the standard football hasn’t been good enough and, yes, the manager has failed so far this season.
Making a few ‘mea culpas’ was a sound tactic. Agreeing with those who wish to criticise disarms them somewhat, even if many of the, mostly softish, questions were answered with promises of greater effort rather than with grand revelations on how things will really be made better.
“What can you say to make us believe you and this team will turn this form around?” was one of the better questions tonight. “Would you re-consider your position if this season became a relegation battle?” was another cracker.
Ferguson’s response to the first was predictable. His answer to the second was interesting. Ferguson will have completed 10 years at Posh if he finishes his current three-year contract and he wants a greater legacy than a ‘mere’ three promotions and a Cup Final win at Wembley.
“I accept that 95% of managers would have gone by now with the record my team has this season,” Ferguson stated. “I’m lucky to still be here and I’m grateful. I have a real affinity for this club and I want to leave it in the Championship with excellent training facilities.
“My record at this club should count for something even if it eventually might not save my job, but it’s the belief in my own ability and in that of the team that makes me believe I can still succeed here. I would have to re-consider if this season becomes a relegation battle, but I honestly don’t believe it will come to that.
“I’m not just fighting for my job here, I’m fighting for my career. If I get sacked from this job it might make things difficult for me in the future.
“We started the season aiming for the top two and if not that then the top six. The top two is now out of the question, but the top six is still possible. In other seasons recently we would be 10 points adrift of the play-off places (the gap is currently five) with the points tally we have, but so many other teams have been inconsistent so that gives us a chance.”
Questions re the inconsistency, lack of tempo and lack of natural goalscorers in his own team were also thrown at Ferguson. He saw most of them off pretty easily, although he was momentarily flummoxed when his statement that ‘Nathaniel Mendez-Laing is an impact sub only’ was met with a harsh-but-fair reply from the floor of ‘if he can’t play 90 minutes he shouldn’t be a professional footballer.’
Ferguson also bristled when the commitment of his players was questioned. “They lack confidence not commitment,” he stated on more than one occasion, “as a manager I can’t give up on the players like fans can.”
Ferguson did admit that the players were pushed too hard in pre-season which contributed to the early flurry of injuries, but he insisted training methods were fine as were the members of his coaching team. He thinks the intensity in training has dropped recently which is something he is working to rectify.
With that Ferguson was off. He was applauded as he left just as he was applauded when he arrived. He’d doubtless swap them both for celebratory applause when he leaves Vale Park this weekend.
OTHER FORUM POINTS
- Posh tried to sign two experienced players on loan this month, but clubs wouldn’t let them leave on loan. Neither was a central midfielder.
- Ferguson believes Ben Alnwick is a much better goalkeeper than Bobby Olejnik.
- Alnwick picked up a thigh injury at Bradford City in August and it’s affected his kicking ever since.
- Ferguson insisted that the only difference of opinion with Grant McCann was over playing time. ‘I Like Grant as a player and a person,’ Ferguson insisted.
- Ferguson let youngsters Tom Conlon and Michael Richens move to Stevenage as he couldn’t see them making his first team.
- More of the money from the sale of Britt Assombalonga to Nottingham Forest went on the training ground than new players.
- Ferguson reckons Posh have high hopes of a couple of 15/16 year-olds in the club’s Academy.
Ferguson admits he has done Ricardo Santos few favours by playing him at right-back. He insists he hasn’t played that many players out of position this season,
- Ferguson repeated his belief that chairman Darragh MacAnthony’s anti-player rant last weekend will not affect the squad. “The chairman has the right to say what he wants,” Ferguson stated. “And let’s face it he told no lies.”
- Ferguson insists him slaughtering the players is counter-productive if done too often.
- A big part of Ferguson extending his contract in the summer was a policy of developing young players.
- Ferguson believes Bristol City and Swindon have been the standout teams in League One this season. He sais City outclassed his own team.