Peterborough United have missed out on the League One play-offs for the fifth successive season after another eventful campaign. There was plenty to admire as well as plenty to regret as Alan Swann reports...
It’s worth pointing out Posh might have failed in their ultimate objective, but they have improved their points tally (the best since the last top-six finish in the 2013-14 campaign) and they finished seventh which would be the highest placing since the same season, so some progress has been made...
...It could have been even better though if Posh had not been so poor against the struggling sides.
Since Darren Ferguson’s return to the club at the end of January Posh lost at Bradford City, AFC Wimbledon and Walsall on each occasion when those clubs were sitting in the bottom two of the table. Posh also lost at home to Plymouth and Scunthorpe during the season, two sides in the bottom four. They lost to seven of the teams who finished in the bottom eight.
In fact Posh picked up just one point in two League One games against a dreadful Bradford side and only goalkeeper Conor O’Malley’s late penalty save at the ABAX Stadium stopped Walsall doing the double over Posh...
...Poor home form is nothing new for Posh. When Darren Ferguson steered the side to League One promotion in 2011 Posh won 15 of 23 games at London Road and when he steered Posh to the League One play-offs in the 2013-14 season they won 14 home games.
In the 2017-18 season Posh won 12 games at home, but the three seasons prior to that only 10, 9 and 9 home wins were recorded. There were signs of improvement under Ferguson as Posh won three and drew with Sunderland in their final four home matches, but they still only won nine home games in total.
Previous boss Steve Evans built a side that at the start of the season played well on the break on their travels using the speed of Siriki Dembele and Joe Ward, but found it hard to break down the deep-lying defences they often encountered at home.
Posh won their first two home matches of the season against Bristol Rovers and Luton, but crucially they scored early in both of those matches...
...The bare statistics suggest Posh made a mistake replacing Evans with Ferguson with 29 games of the League One season already played.
Posh picked up 48 points under Evans which is 1.65 points per game which equates to 76 points over a 46-game season which would have meant a play-off place.
Under Ferguson Posh collected 24 points from 17 matches which is 1.41 per game and 65 points over a full season. That’s mid-table form.
Posh scored 47 League One goals under Evans and 24 under Ferguson. That’s 1.62 goals per game under their former boss and 1.41 under the current manager.
Evans also had the edge defensively as his Posh team conceded 38 goals at 1.31 per game compared to Ferguson’s 24 goals in 17 matches (1.41 per game).
Obviously opinion differs as to whether or not Posh were in decline under Evans and unlikely to sustain a challenge for the play-offs, but the fact remains Posh were sixth when he left...
...In mitigation for Ferguson his arrival co-incided with a rash of injuries (Siriki Dembele, Ben White, Josh Knight, Joe Ward) and red cards which had been rare under Evans. Ryan Tafazolli at Luton was the only sending-off of the Evans era, but that was quickly followed by three more red cards (Lee Tomlin, Tyler Denton, Ivan Toney), all in the first-half of matches, all of which were lost, after Ferguson arrived which cost points and restricted the chances of a consistent selection. Rhys Bennett was also sent off at AFC Wimbledon while conceding a match-losing penalty, two awful decisions by one of many awful referees to plague Posh games this season...
...And Ferguson can’t be blamed for the unsettling nature of changing manager at a crucial point of the season. He inherited a set of players who had become used to one style of play and predictably struggled to make them successful playing in his preferred style, at least initially.
But the players I have spoken to/listened to all said training was more enjoyable and more educational under Ferguson.
It was obvious the likes of Jason Naismith and Alex Woodyard improved under Ferguson. I’d expect the likes of Siriki Dembele, Joe Ward and Ivan Toney, who all enjoyed decent seasons anyway, to improve further under this manager next season as well...
...In Ferguson’s best Posh sides he had a pacey striker. Think Craig Mackail-Smith, Britt Assombalonga and Dwight Gayle. I know Posh were relegated from the Championship with Gayle, but he was part of a very good side.
In 2017-18 Posh had Jack Marriott who also had explosive pace to complement his finishing ability, something lacking in the current team with the exception of Dembele and Ward.
Toney and Matt Godden have enjoyed good spells this season, but the suspicion is they won’t succeed in a Ferguson team, not as a pair.
The most exciting arrival among the 20-odd Evans signings was undoubtedly Lee Tomlin on loan.
Unfortunately he produced very little which might well have been because of his lack of match fitness, but which could also have been down to his teammates.
Until the last couple of games Posh lacked the precision passers to get the ball quickly and accurately to Tomlin and they lacked the players up top quick enough to get on the end of his through balls...
..Posh fielded three specialist left-backs this season, Colin Daniel, Tyler Denton and Daniel Lafferty, and they were all poor.
All positions are important and it’s encouraging to note this one might already have been remedied.
Interestingly of the 22 players Evans signed in 11 months as manager 15 have either gone or could go before the start of next season.