Peterborough United are 20 games into the League One season, sitting pretty in fourth place, just two points off second spot.
Here is Peterborough Telegraph Posh writer Alan Swann’s views on the season so far and what is likely to lie ahead for the rest of the season.
In seasons gone by (especially some of those experienced in the 80s and 90s by us older fans), fourth place, 38 points from 20 matches with a squad, most of whom had little experience of League One, put together with indecent haste and without the two best players from last season would be seen as a monumental achievement.
That points tally is not just the best at the equivalent stage since Posh were relegated at the end of the 2012-13 season, it’s one of the best returns in the club’s history.
Based purely on numbers it’s a huge success story, but nagging doubts remain among many about the chances of a near two-points per game ratio being maintained. It’s frustrating proper praise isn’t being delivered for a team that has lost just five of 27 competitive fixtures, but there are things to address.
Home form is obviously the biggest concern. Posh won their first two games at the ABAX Stadium and have won just two of eight home games since.
In an ideal world Posh home and away form this season would be reversed. There would probably be far less negativity if Posh had won seven matches on their own patch rather than seven on the road. Too great a percentage of fans are seeing the weaker performances
But there is reason to believe/hope that things could turn around at the ABAX. The three games Posh have lost at home have been to promotion candidates Portsmouth and Barnsley, as well as Accrington who were going well at the time.
Posh didn’t play great in their two most recent wins against Fleetwood and AFC Wimbledon, but they deserved to win them. My point is the weakness of the division as a whole means Posh won’t have to play scintillating football to win many games as long as the manager can find a formula that works consistently.
That formula has been disappointingly elusive though. Joe Ward at right-back works well at home against teams who will concede possession and territory to Posh. You wouldn’t want him defending against tricky wingers though, like Ricky Holmes who he could face this Saturday.
Ward’s shift into the back four ensures Marcus Maddison’s presence in the starting line-up. He, as he showed against Bradford and Wimbledon, is essential when massed defences need unlocking. As well as Siriki Dembele has done, Maddison is far more likely to find a killer pass.
Some would say - and Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony might well be among them - 18 signings since the end of last season is enough, but some players don’t develop/settle in as quickly as others so Evans will doubtless work hard to get at least two more players through the door next month. More if Maddison or centre-back Ryan Tafazolli, who is out of contract at the end of the season, move on.
I believe Posh can finish in the top six with the current goalkeeping and defensive options (providing Josh Yorwerth gets over his personal problems) and if Maddison stays they have enough attacking width as well as forward power.
A central midfielder with passing ability, and who can get up and down the pitch successfully, would come in handy as would a ‘Lee Tomlin’ type player who can play well behind a single striker. Posh have tried Jamie Walker in this position without success.
Walker and George Cooper don’t seem to suit Evans’ preferred 4-4-2 formation which involves wingers working as hard defensively as they do in the other direction.
Top-class midfielders (like Aiden McGeady at Sunderland) are not easy to find at League One level so I’m surprised Evans has yet to try the 4-3-3 formation Grant McCann employed with some success last season. Maddison and Dembele could play high up the pitch either side of Matt Godden, Jason Cummings or Ivan Toney without worrying as much about their defensive duties.
Posh were comfortably League One’s leading goalscorers for most of this season, but no longer. They have scored just five goals in their last six League One matches which includes games against the current bottom two.
Godden and Cummings have not linked up with Ivan Toney as well they linked up with each other in August. Toney is an interesting player. He can look impossible to handle, but he also drifts into wide positions that don’t suit his strengths and he can look flash. As a reported £600k signing Evans needs to get the best out of him regularly.
Posh have been outstanding away from home, but they’ve also benefitted from meeting teams well out of form, or riddled by injuries.
Posh did well to come back from behind twice to draw at Sunderland, but the home side were missing several key men that night so it could be a misleading result.
But Posh are a fluke goal at Wycombe away from being unbeaten on the road and that’s a superb record no matter how it came about.
Posh fans have travelled in numbers and their support has been outstanding, but take a moment to praise the outstanding work from the club’s backroom staff, led by press officer Phil Adlam, and mascot Peter Burrow in improving home attendance numbers and the general feelgood atmosphere at the ABAX.
They’ve targetted the fans of tomorrow, lapsed supporters and waverers with a very visible approach in the community.
Of course the best way to make fans return is to win and play well in front of them. That needs to be a major ambition for the rest of the season.
I’m struggling to see Posh finish above Sunderland, Barnsley, Portsmouth or Luton, while I fully expect Charlton to reach the play-offs for the second season in a row, but I’d be very disappointed if Evans didn’t lead his side to a top six finish and that would represent success in my opinion.
And Posh are so close to the top two it might only take a couple of new recruits and the odd tactical tweak to make automatic promotion a real possibility.