Preview: Peterborough United

You could say that Wednesday night’s defeat away at Sheffield United was a cold, hard dose of reality, but that was one game versus a lifetime of waiting to see this club win something. If you’re going to let an individual defeat sour the experience of Sunday, football just might not be for you.

Possible Line-Up

That being said, failing to win this upcoming game against Peterborough and having relegation confirmed would be a major buzzkill less than a week after winning at Wembley. Although relegation is inevitable at this point, it would be nice to preserve the sense of pride about supporting this club that came from last Sunday for as long as possible. These remaining home games are a chance to win new fans over and tempt old ones back, we cannot allow apathy to set back in so easily.

The line-up against Sheffield United indicated just how many injuries we’re carrying in the squad at this point. It’s likely then that the team selection for this forthcoming game will be a case of who’s fit rather than picking a team specifically designed to beat the opposition. Just who will be available is unclear, but don’t be too surprised to see further starts for Marcus Tudgay and Kevin Foley – maybe we’ll even get to see Michael Folivi finally.

Last Time We Met

In an alternate reality, Peterborough don’t score in the final minute at London Road back on New Year’s Eve, Russell Slade gets his first win, that confidence boost gives us an edge over Slade’s first few games in charge, we remain competitive in the league, Slade leads us out at Wembley, and his name and face are etched into our memories in a positive way. But that didn’t happen and the 1-1 draw against Peterborough earlier in the season was a sign of things to come under Slade.

It’s worth pointing out though that our home record against Peterborough is not only good in recent years, but we always seem to pull off remarkable comebacks against them. The last two meetings at the Ricoh Arena have seen us be two goals behind in each game, only to win 3-2. It was the same scoreline back at Sixfields, only Peterborough were 1-0, then 2-1 up before succumbing to a Leon Clarke masterclass in the second-half.

How Are They Doing?

It’s been a frustrating season for Peterborough where things just haven’t quite clicked for them on a consistent basis. They have a squad jam-packed with exciting attacking players such as Marcus Maddison, Tom Nichols, Paul Taylor, Leo da Silva Lopes, Brad Inman, Martin Samuelsen and Gwion Edwards, but have only demonstrated their potential on intermittent occasions, which is why they’re currently in mid-table rather than in the play-off position they really should be.

Peterborough’s bloated squad is probably the reason why they haven’t achieved what they should have this season. When there were on the fringes of the play-offs in January, Grant McCann wanted the squad trimmed, instead, five first-choice players were signed and it took too long for McCann to integrate them into the side.

The strength in depth though has to be considered a major threat heading into this game. The rangy and mercurial winger Marcus Maddison stands out as Peterborough’s best players and probably one of the best in the division when he’s at his best. He has an absolutely thunderous left-foot and can strike long-range efforts at an angle from long distance from both dead ball situations and set-pieces.

Currently, it is a strike pairing of Tom Nichols and Junior Morias for the Posh. Nichols has had a decent season in front of goal, registering 10 as well as a fair few assists, but hasn’t quite been a reliable finisher. Morias has come in from non-league Boreham Wood and scored some absolutely stunning goals and is a fairly pacey player as well, so he’ll have to be watched carefully.

Possible Line-Up

In midfield, Peterborough have dynamic players in Chris Forrester and Leo da Silva Lopes who’ll play in the wide positions of a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Sitting at the base will be Anthony Grant, who is an absolute bastard, probably the best at what he does at this level of football. He’s a fairly tidy midfield player and a decent tackler, but it’s that he’s an expert in winning soft free-kicks, making nasty, niggly tackles that seem to go unnoticed by referees and wasting time – a nightmare to play against when you fall behind.

Peterborough’s defence is probably the weak area of the side, they have good players for this level in the form of Michael Bostwick, Jack Baldwin and Michael Smith, it’s just that their playing style can leave them open at the back. In goal, they have Tottenham youngster Luke McGee who has had a decent season, especially considering he was a bit of a panic signing at the end of the summer transfer window.

Prediction

I’m in two minds about this game. I’m concerned that the number of injured players we’re carrying is going to make this a tired and disjointed performance against a team with a number of very talented attacking players. However, I’m hoping that the sense of goodwill following the win at Wembley will give the team the shot in the arm they require to get the win here to stave off relegation.

Given Peterborough’s inconsistent nature this season, I’m going to go for positivity heading into this game. I think we’ll win, and it will be a 2-1 scoreline.

Half-Way Review: The Other 23 – The Play-Off Race

Top Scorer: Ian Henderson (8) Most Assists: Joe Bunney (7)

Top Scorer: Ian Henderson (8)
Most Assists: Joe Bunney (7)

Rochdale (4th Place)

I felt prior to the start of the season that Rochdale were a decent bet to at least challenge for the top six and, despite a seven-game winless run at the start of the season, Keith Hill’s side have justified my faith in them. Rochdale’s ability to mix-up smart possession football with telling diagonal passes towards Ian Henderson and Calvin Andrew up-front, along with a zealous pressing game has always made them a real nightmare team to play against for many and they’ve been added a level of consistency that was missing last season.

Keith Hill’s ability to shuffle his pack on a miniscule budget has also given Rochdale an edge over most of the other play-off contenders. An example of which comes from when left-back Scott Tanser picked up an injury and striker Joe Bunney was moved to left-back – he the joint-third leading provider of assists this season. They should be feeling confident of at least securing top six place, and are potential dark horses for an automatic promotion spot if they can find another level over the next few months.

Top Scorer: Billy Clarke (6) Most Assists: Nicky Law & Mark Marshall (3)

Top Scorer: Billy Clarke (6)
Most Assists: Nicky Law & Mark Marshall (3)

Bradford City (5th Place)

There were some significant doubts surrounding Bradford City heading into the start of this season, Phil Parkinson had left after a long and mostly successful era at the club and in his place had come Stuart McCall, who was arriving with a mixed reputation as a manager. By-and-large though, Stuart McCall has managed to maintain a sense of momentum and identity at Valley Parade, despite being forced to make some big changes to the squad over the summer.

A new-look defence featuring Romain Vincelot and Nathaniel Knight-Percival in central defence has largely been solid, while Mark Marshall and Nicky Law have impressed out wide for the Bantams. A lack of a reliable goalscoring centre-forward, and Stuart McCall’s tendency to constantly tweak his starting line-up, has held Bradford back from being in the automatic promotion race. If Bradford can find some additional quality in the January transfer window, they should be in a good position to at least secure a top six place, but they’ve maybe left themselves too much to do to make significant ground on the top two.

Top Scorer: David Ball (9) Most Assists: Three Players (4)

Top Scorer: David Ball (9)
Most Assists: Three Players (4)

Fleetwood Town (6th Place)

Having been appointed with around a week to go before the start of the season, Uwe Rosler could have been forgiven for pleading for patience at Fleetwood as he settled into the job without any time to stamp his mark on the squad. Instead, Fleetwood started the season in excellent form thanks to Rosler discovering a devastating attacking trident of David Ball, Ashley Hunter and Chris Long, while his one major signing of midfielder Kyle Dempsey added further potency to a Fleetwood squad that had lacked a cutting edge for much of last season.

After some underwhelming form over the autumn, Uwe Rosler has re-jigged the formation to a back three and it seems to have Fleetwood playing with a level of consistency to see them move into the top six. They haven’t been entirely convincing in many of their games but have developed a habit of nicking the odd goal in tight games, whether that is enough to mount a play-off push remains to be seen.

Top Scorer: Simon Cox (7) Most Assists: Simon Cox (6)

Top Scorer: Simon Cox (7)
Most Assists: Simon Cox (6)

Southend United (7th Place)

A lot of Southend’s success this season can be put down to the gambles that Phil Brown took on signing strikers Simon Cox and Nile Ranger in the summer. Although neither are particularly prolific goalscorers, Cox’s creativity and Ranger’s hold-up play have given Southend a real presence and threat in the final third that they lacked last season, with former Coventry City man Marc-Antoine Fortuné playing an effective role as back-up. The form of the often inconsistent Stephen McLaughlin out wide and the return to full fitness of midfielder Anthony Wordsworth have been real boons for Southend too as they’ve defied most pre-season predictions that they would struggle.

It’s worth noting that Southend were in a similarly close position to the top six around this time last season before falling apart in the final months, which makes it hard not to feel that they’re currently on a good run of form that must end at some point. They have shown touches of genuine quality over the past month or so which could make this season different to last. How they cope with their next loss could provide a better indication of how they’re going to do than their current good form.

Top Scorer: Gwion Edwards (7) Most Assists: Marcus Maddison (9)

Top Scorer: Gwion Edwards (7)
Most Assists: Marcus Maddison (9)

Peterborough United (8th Place)

Peterborough have flattered to deceive over the past few seasons but Grant McCann looks to have garnered a semblance of consistency from the Posh thus far this season. Strangely, Peterborough have been rather good defensively this season, but despite currently boasted an array of impressive attacking talent, they’ve struggled to push on into the top six. Attackers Marcus Maddison, Gwion Edwards, Leo da Silva Lopes, Tom Nichols and Paul Taylor have all shown intermittently thus far, but not yet on a consistent basis.

With last season’s top-scorer, Lee Angol, returning to full fitness and the impressive West Ham loanee Martin Samuelsen arriving in the early days of the January transfer window, it won’t be a lack of attacking potential that will let Peterborough down this season. The concern is that manager Grant McCann has overloaded his squad with attacking options and will waste precious time searching for the right combination. A position just outside the play-offs looks to be where Peterborough will spend much of the rest of the season.

 

Top Scorer: Lee Gregory (10) Most Assists: Steve Morison (4)

Top Scorer: Lee Gregory (10)
Most Assists: Steve Morison (4)

Millwall (9th Place)

Seen by many, myself included, as one of the teams best-set to challenge for automatic promotion this season, Millwall have struggled to live up to expectations, finding themselves in the bottom half for much of the campaign. That identity of physical, aggressive football that Neil Harris brought roaring back to Millwall last season hasn’t been quite as effective this time around, with Harris appearing to lack the tactical acumen at times to change things up.

However, Millwall have improved a lot over recent weeks and find themselves surging up the table, not unlike last season’s run to the play-off final. Striker/winger Aiden O’Brien has been in excellent goal-scoring form, and the returns to form and fitness of last season’s brutally effective strike pairing of Steve Morison and Lee Gregory has effectively guaranteed Millwall a steady source of goals throughout the rest of the season. They’re getting closer to striking distance of the play-offs and appear to be rising up through the gears as the season enters its crucial phase.

Top Scorer: Matty Taylor (15) Most Assists: Chris Lines (5)

Top Scorer: Matty Taylor (15)
Most Assists: Chris Lines (5)

Bristol Rovers (10th Place)

Bristol Rovers have looked at times this season like they could challenge for the top six but have been let down by a lack of consistency – both in form and team selection. For Bristol Rovers manager Darrell Clarke, the inconsistent team selections haven’t merely been down to not knowing his best eleven, it has been down to a desire to calculate how he can get the best out of his squad against every specific opponent. It has regularly proved an effective formula with what is a fairly similar squad to one that played in the National League two seasons ago.

The January transfer window could be the difference between a season of adjusting to League One and a top six place. Darrell Clarke has stated a desire to re-jig his squad after admitting that some of his players are not up to League One standard. With the backing of a rich Jordanian owner, Bristol Rovers should be able to add quality to the squad to supplement the goalscoring brilliance of Matty Taylor.

Top Scorer: Josh Magennis (8) Most Assists: 5 Players (4)

Top Scorer: Josh Magennis (8)
Most Assists: 5 Players (4)

Charlton Athletic (11th Place)

In retrospect, the appointment of Russell Slade as Charlton manager in the summer was a case of picking the wrong manager for the task of assembling a promotion-winning side. Slade does not have a promotion on his CV and tends to build solid, rather than spectacular sides. Charlton found that out after a series of obdurate performances in the first few months which cost Slade his job. The Addicks have since gone for a manager who builds spectacular, rather than solid, sides in Karl Robinson.

It’s taken time for Robinson to stamp his mark at Charlton but the past few performances have suggested it might not be too late for a play-off tilt. Bulldozer centre-forward Josh Magennis recently scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Bristol Rovers, but it was the performance of young winger Joe Aribo that really caught the eye, and he now has four assists in four league appearances. With the January transfer window to re-shape the squad to his liking, Robinson should be able to make a further impact at the Valley, it may be slightly too late though to salvage a top six spot.

Preview: Peterborough United

Another game, another shellacking, this time it was to Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day, which now sends us into part two of Russell Slade’s pre-transfer window reconnaissance mission crossing our fingers that this somehow isn’t going to be yet another heavy defeat.

I would imagine that most Coventry City fans assumed that the appointment of a ‘proper’ manager to step into the breach wouldn’t be a silver bullet solution, and the 4-1 loss on Monday has proven that assumption to be true. There doesn’t seem to be a combination of our current set of players that could conceivably go on to beat the drop this season. It’s not just going to take a few decent signings and a confidence boost to save us this season, a complete re-think in every area of the pitch is the absolute minimum.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

For this upcoming game against Peterborough, Russell Slade can either choose to take a look at some of those players that were left out against Bristol Rovers, just in case there’s anything there worth working with, or he can stick with a similar formula as he looks to put in place the building blocks of our survival push. If we can’t take points from this game, something that can help Slade form a team unit as quickly as possible has to come out of this game.

As for the team selection, without any new injuries or suspensions, Slade is free to pick whatever team he feels is appropriate. This may be a chance to play the likes of Dion Kelly-Evans and Ryan Haynes instead of the soon-to-be departing loan players, but Slade doesn’t seem like a risk-taker to me and I can see most of the loan players who were involved on Boxing Day starting again here.

Last Time We Met

It was prior to our last meeting with Peterborough United that we were given the signal by Tony Mowbray that he had given up on any hope of making the play-offs. The signings of Jodi Jones and Vladimir Gadzhev were clearly with the following season, in League One, in mind, so we entered our Good Friday trip to London Road knowing pretty much that the jig was up for what was once such a promising campaign.

Despite dominating that first-half, with Gael Bigirimana and Marc-Antoine Fortuné both playing particularly well, Graham Westley’s Peterborough benefited from some woeful set-piece defending to take the lead before the stroke of half-time. We then went to pieces as Peterborough discovered an extra gear in the second-half and scored a second goal. Joe Cole pulled a goal back after a piercing counter-attack from a corner-kick. Darius Henderson could have levelled matters, before he realised he was Darius Henderson and gravity got in his way. Peterborough punished Henderson’s air-kick by scoring a third and final goal pretty much straight afterwards.

How Are They Doing?

Peterborough probably endured a worse collapse last season than we did. From playing some of the best football in the division and looking set to surge into automatic promotion contention, the sale of star striker Conor Washington and some bizarre tactical decisions from Graham Westley saw them completely lose momentum and slump down towards mid-table obscurity.

However, Peterborough chairman decided to entrust the managerial rookie Grant McCann, who had enjoyed a brief but entertaining caretaker spell before Westley’s arrival last season, with the full-time manager’s role this season. As it as ever thus at London Road, Peterborough have scored lots of goals this season but have struggled for consistency, only, they’ve been slightly less inconsistent this time around then the past few seasons.

Peterborough possess an impressive array of attacking talents, with the rangy winger/number 10 Marcus Maddison playing the role of conductor, with eight assists to his name and maintaining a lethal shot from set-pieces. The performances of striker Tom Nichols and winger Gwion Edwards have caught the eye too. Nichols is starting to live up to his promise, having been signed as Conor Washington’s replacement last season and struggling for form. Welsh winger Edwards is Peterborough’s leading scorer with seven goals and is a bundle of energy and skill, with the occasional eye for the spectacular.

The troubled but mercurial talent of forward Paul Taylor returned to Peterborough this summer and is playing more like the man sold to Ipswich for £1.5m than the one who spent the entirety of last season without a football club. The returns to fitness of last season’s top-scorer Lee Angol and former Crewe midfielder Brad Inman have further bolstered Peterborough’s ranks with goalscorers.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Others to watch out for include the metronomic Chris Forrester in midfield, a lanky Irishman with a wonderful range of passing whose playing style is reminiscent of Ben Stevenson. Leo da Silva Lopes on the left of midfield has been watched by Premier League clubs for much of the season and is a ludicrously gifted dribbler of the ball who also possesses great energy and can get stuck-in defensively on occasion.

Interestingly, despite their struggles for consistency with so many talented attacking players, their defence has been one of the better units in the division. Spurs loanee Luke McGee in goal has been remarkably solid for someone signed in a relative panic on transfer deadline day when Ben Alnwick unexpectedly announced his intention to leave the club. Jack Baldwin and Ryan Tafazolli are two very promising up-and-coming young centre-backs. While there’s always Michael Bostwick who provides some presence to the defensive unit, either as a defender or defensive midfielder.

Prediction

Given that we’ve been thrashed over the past month by teams that aren’t particularly free-scoring, it’s hard to see how we’re going to do any better against a side with goalscorers all over the pitch. Having had more time to work with the squad than he did for the Bristol Rovers game, hopefully Russell Slade will have instilled a modicum of defensive solidity, but he’s still working with a back four of inexperienced full-backs and the two Jordans, there’s only so much he can do.

So to sum up this 1000-word preview more concisely, we’re going to lose 4-0.

May 2017 bring in change on as many fronts as possible.

Preview: Peterborough United

When Sky picked out this game for live coverage back in January, this looked set to be a contest between two of the bigger clubs in this division duking it out for automatic promotion. Now though, it’s a game between the two teams 20th and 21st in the form table over the past six games. With eight players between the two teams called up for international duty too, it’s fair to say that Sky have picked a game for their subscribers in danger of being a damp squib.

A point in our last game against Swindon was okay I suppose but the performance did highlight just how far we’ve dropped over the past few months. Whereas before we would have relished taking on one of the division’s form sides at the Ricoh Arena, we set ourselves up to nick something rather than put them to the sword.

In fairness to Mowbray, all of our bright attacking players are out of form leaving us short of that explosive quality to eviscerate teams. We could probably have done with adding one or two more exciting attacking players to the squad to freshen things up but the plan it seems is to sneak our way back into the play-offs with more performances similar to the Swindon game to follow.

This game is all about managing the impact of losing Jack Stephens, Adam Armstrong and James Maddison to international duty. The loss of Stephens is perhaps the biggest blow because it looked like we had found a back four that worked against Swindon and we’re now looking at playing either Romain Vincelot or Stephen Hunt in defence to get us through this game. Although he’s struggled of late Armstrong is the only out-and-out goalscorer we have in the squad. Maddison hasn’t been starting lately but does leave us short of an impact sub.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

In attack, it’s likely that the main change from the Swindon game will be Jacob Murphy in for Adam Armstrong. Murphy showed with a brace against Colchester back in November that he can play just behind Fortuné effectively although the dip in form and confidence could well limit his effectiveness. With Cole and Rose in our other attacking positions, Murphy is our biggest goal threat in open play which makes his performance one of the most important.

Following an impressive win for the under-21s on Monday night, there is a chance for a few of those involved to stake a claim for a more regular place in the side. Jodi Jones drew the headlines with two goals and an assist, he could well be the injection of flair this team has needed. Gael Bigirimana also had a strong performance and could start this game should Vincelot drop into defence. Ruben Lameiras and George Thomas could also find themselves involved too with a longer shots for involvement including Jack Finch, Dion Kelly-Evans or Cian Harries.

Last Time We Met

Having once again failed to beat Swindon, it’s nice to know that sometimes these weird bogey team things happen the other way. Out of our last six meetings with Peterborough, we’ve beaten them five times and on three occasions comeback dramatically having been thoroughly outplayed in the first-half.

Our most recent meeting with them must have played out as a nightmare for Posh fans. Peterborough looked to be a different sport to us in the first-half at the Ricoh back in October. Dominating possession, we couldn’t even get close to them as they tapped-tapped-tapped their way around us. A 2-0 lead at half-time was thoroughly deserved and there didn’t look to be anyway back for us.

The turnaround was partially down to Peterborough manager Graham Westley’s decision to get his team to time-waste and feign injury rather than go for the jugular and also the sheer determination of our beaded warriors Romain Vincelot and Jim O’Brien to haul us back into the contest. It was Vincelot who bundled home a set-piece 10 minutes after the break before Jacob Murphy blitzed past three Peterborough defenders to put it on a plate for Armstrong to equalise. The winner from Armstrong was pure class as he took out two defenders with one touch before curling the ball into the far corner to cue delirium.

How Are They Doing?

I don’t think enough can be said about just how good Peterborough were for 45 minutes against us back in October, they were by far the best team I’ve seen play against us at this level. They had that snake charmer-like quality of hoarding possession, lulling you into a stupor with a thousand sideways passes before knocking a perfectly-weight diagonal pass to knock you off balance and working the ball effortlessly into the back of the net before you realised just what had happened. If there was any team that I saw going on to win this division at a canter, it was Peterborough.

That inability to see out the win against us was an early sign of just why they have fallen off so badly over the past few months. For a while after that game, they kept that metronomic domination of games and could completely dismantle teams. The loss of Conor Washington, a striker who was made to look brilliant through the sheer number of chances Peterborough created, was a big loss as it has transpired but the negative tactics and constant tweaking from manager Graham Westley completely disrupted that momentum too.

On the loss of Washington, Peterborough decided to take the scattergun approach to replacing Washington, bringing in four new strikers to replace the loss of one. Understandably, the disruption caused by attempting to integrate so many new players hasn’t been in any way helpful. The most promising of the four is a player who’s scored in his last two appearances and started the season with Nuneaton Town, Aaron Williams. Similar to Washington, Williams was regarded by Nuneaton fans as an energetic but fairly wasteful forward.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Behind the forward line there is plenty of quality but it appears that Westley’s random selection policy which often involves playing players completely out of position has proven detrimental. Marcus Maddison is a languid winger with excellent delivery and a lethal long-range shot and has been played from time-to-time at full-back. The simply magic Erhun Oztumer, scorer of a stunningly nonchalant long-ranger at the Ricoh, has been dropped at random by Westley for no reason at all.

Chris Forrester in central midfield can run games with his passing, Jon Taylor on the wing has bundles of energy and is a real goal threat, Michael Bostwick at the back is one of the most committed defenders in the division. There is so much talent in this side but they’ve been poorly managed to be sitting where they are in the league.

Prediction

The poor form of both of these teams makes this game hard to predict. Although both sides may be feeling that they’re turning a corner, if the evidence of our last performance against Swindon is anything to go by, the process of corner turning may well be too late to salvage anything from this season.

Worryingly, Peterborough have been scoring goals even in their poor run of form whereas they’ve dried up for us and we’re without our top scorer and a key defender. Though I think that Peterborough are slight favourites for this game, I can’t help feeling that we can pull something out of the bag here. I’m predicting a 1-0 victory for the Sky Blues.

Preview: Peterborough United

Just when it looked like the run of draws was over, we somehow managed to extend it one game further with a late capitulation against Swindon. Not being at the game, it’s hard to ascertain just how concerned we should be about the late collapse. Staying positive for now, let’s just put it down as just one of those things that happen in even a successful season.

It would be pretty sweet to justify that positivity with back-to-back wins in back-to-back home games. With the three teams above us in danger of pulling away and those below closing in, failure to seize momentum could see us losing touch in the promotion race. Tony Mowbray’s usually managed to pull out results when the doubts had been mounting during his time here, a return to winning ways against Peterborough would be timely.

It’s going to be an interesting to see how Reice Charles-Cook reacts to finally conceding a goal in the league. Swindon’s first goal was a piece of individual brilliance and their second was a penalty, which Charles-Cook can hardly be faulted for conceding. Losing that air of impenetrability could possibly affect his confidence and without Reda Johnson in the side, the rest of the defence may be feeling less certain.

As ever, the main question heading into a Coventry City game at the moment is, how are we going to line up in attack? Tony Mowbray is still experimenting with his various options, now a quarter of the way into the season.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Joe Cole should be much closer to full fitness having had two games last week and a whole week to recover, it was hardly ideal that he had to come off against Swindon at half-time, even if we did score twice without him. With Cole likely to start, it’s unlikely that someone like Fortuné and Tudgay will start too as a hold-up striker. Cole will want pace and penetration ahead of him rather than someone playing with their back to goal.

Just who those players will be is the selection issue for Mowbray heading into this game. Jim O’Brien has performed ably since returning to the team and his industry is important to have amongst our more ephemeral performers up front. Ryan Kent remains a source of frustration, so much talent, so little end product, and could be a contender for the drop. With Jacob Murphy now our specialist substitute, if there is a change to be made it would likely be Lameiras for Kent but the latter may still be preferred for his ability to run in behind.

Last Time We Met

We pulled out two unlikely wins over Peterborough United last season. The first coming almost exactly at this time 12 months ago where Steven Pressley’s demoralised Coventry City side fell two goals behind and looked well-beaten. Inspired by the returning Frank Nouble and Reda Johnson though, the Sky Blues rallied in the second-half to win the game 3-2, leaving the entire Peterborough team utterly shellshocked at just what had happened.

At the end of March this year, Tony Mowbray’s Coventry City side travelled to London Road more in hope than expectation at getting result against a Peterborough side in decent form. In a game that the hosts probably edged, Blair Turgott made his one and only notable contribution for Coventry City in stealing in for the game’s only goal. A defence inspired by a rock-solid Aaron Martin and arguably Lee Burge’s best performance in goal held on for a valuable three points.

How Are They Doing?

Peterborough are always billed as promotion contenders at this level thanks to the performances of players such as Craig Mackail-Smith, Britt Assombalonga and Lee Tomlin still fresh in the memory of many observers. Since returning to this level three seasons ago, Peterborough have been on the decline with the players stepping into the shoes of the aforementioned proving to be pale imitations. Things were made worse this calendar year following Darren Ferguson’s overdue sacking and the decision to replace him with youth-team coach Dave Robertson who was clearly not up for the job.

The farce looked set to continue after the frankly bizarre decision to replace Robertson with Graham Westley a month ago. Whilst Westley is perhaps a harshly maligned manager at this level, his reputation for cynical, low-quality, defensive football seemed to jar with Peterborough’s reputation as being one of the most open and entertaining teams in English football. Westley promised that he would keep to the club’s traditions and thus far has been true to his word.

The goals are flying in at all angles and from both ends at Peterborough currently, that they are the division’s highest scorers and only have a goal difference of +6 should give you a decent impression of what’s going on at Peterborough. In very un-Graham Westley manner, the key player at this moment in time at London Road is the 5 foot 3 playmaker Erhun Oztumer (aka ‘The Turkish Messi’), who has clicked into life with a multitude of goals and assists since Westley’s appointment.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The goals have been shared out fairly equally throughout the team at Peterborough, which is down to the lack of a true central, goalscoring striker in the team. The likes of Lee Angol, Conor Washington and Souleymane Coulibaly are all decent forward options to have but none have reputations as lethal finishers.

With Peterborough’s defence being rather predictably far from water-tight, the other players to keep an eye on are in midfield. Jon Taylor, a direct and energetic winger, always looks a threat whenever I’ve seen him play against us. In a different way, Michael Bostwick has been an impressive player with his sheer presence on the pitch and is a threat with his long-range shooting. Finally, Irish import Chris Forrester has had a promising start to life at London Road, recently being compared to Michael Carrick by his manager in the press.

Prediction

This may be a side managed by Graham Westley that we’re facing, but the idea that we’re facing a cynical, defensive, stodgy team likely to start timewasting from kick-off like a typical Graham Westley team would do, would be a wrong assumption to make. The danger heading into this game is not that we’ll have so much of the ball that we’ll be caught on the counter having failed to breakdown an organised defence but that the opposition will be able to outscore our dangerous looking but profligate attack. The key to winning this game will be how our defence can contain Peterborough’s attack and how incisive we can then be on the counter-attack.

Peterborough are likely to leave gaps at the back and when teams have been more open against us, we have done a lot better than the ones looking to contain us. I’m not sure though that we are clinical enough to go toe-to-toe in an all-out slug-fest against Peterborough should the game pan out that way. I am confident of a win though, 2-1 to the Sky Blues.

Preview: Peterborough United

Another home game lost in farcical circumstances with another performance lacking in intensity for 90 minutes. The way this team veers from complete comfort to complete disarray has been the theme of the season and if we do go down, it will be because of that carelessness that was once again on show at the Ricoh Arena last week.

The important thing though is to not dwell on the disappointment of missing out on what would have been a third consecutive win and one that would have taken the pressure off some big remaining fixtures. Too often we have seen mistakes lead to goals conceded, goals conceded leading to defeats and defeats leading to more defeats. There isn’t time to prattle around feeling sorry for ourselves, it’s pick yourself up and go an again time.

Given the way the relegation battle has completely folded in on itself like an accordion over the past two weeks, this tough away trip to Peterborough falls into the category of at least ‘must not lose’. It’s also not inconceivable that we’ll need all three points just to maintain inertia in the race for survival. If it didn’t before, every game is important right now.

Mowbray has now had a week uninterrupted to work with the squad, surely a good thing?

Mowbray has now had a week uninterrupted to work with the squad, surely a good thing?

Still, a week’s rest gives the first pause in Tony Mowbray’s reign gives the new manager time to really work with the squad and implement his methods. We have seen glimpses of what Mowbray should eventually bring to this football – bright, attractive, attacking football. Currently though, the natural tendency is towards cautiousness, panic and fear. It remains to be seen whether there’s enough time for Mowbray to institute his methods to keep this team up but if we do stay up, at least it will be on our own terms rather than the turgid affair last season descended into.

With no new loan signings being added to the team, the key players for the rest of the season look to be the experienced heads of Reda Johnson, Marcus Tudgay and, possibly, Andy Webster. With the first two still injured and the latter the third choice centre-back, this away game at Peterborough will be a test of the mental fortitude of players that have often been found wanting in that department this season.

Jim O’Brien looked a much more effective playing a Ji-Sung Park-style, scrappy attacking midfielder role against Doncaster last week and if we can keep him in that area of the pitch for 90 minutes, we give ourselves a better chance of winning. With Barton and Nouble as our wide players, that defence that made so many shocking errors last week will have to step up whilst hoping that the players ahead of them can do the business this time.

Possible Line-Up: (4-2-3-1) Burge; Willis, Pennington, Martin, Stokes; Ward, Fleck; Barton, O’Brien, Nouble; Samuel

Last Time We Met

How much earlier would Steven Pressley had been sacked had he lost our last meeting against Peterborough? Seven league games winless, 2-0 down at half-time and no longer with the excuse of being without his two most influential players in Reda Johnson and Frank Nouble. If there was fair justification for Pressley to lose his job before the game, his position would have been near untenable had the final whistle blew on the 45th minute.

However second-half goals from Ryan Haynes, Jim O’Brien and the unstoppable, on that day, Frank Nouble helped force a remarkable comeback that had seemed to have come from absolutely nowhere. As the Peterborough defenders bounced, dumbfounded off Nouble for the coup de grace third goal to clinch a vital win, it had seemed that the Sky Blues were finally clicking back into gear to mount an assault back up the table.

How Are They Doing?

That defeat came at around the beginning of the end for Darren Ferguson’s second spell at Peterborough United. The Posh are yet to appoint a new permanent manager but have instead allowed youth-team boss Dave Robertson to audition for the role and he has won five from his first six games in charge. Extraordinarily for Peterborough, Robertson’s success has been built on rock solid, basic defending which has seen his team concede a miserly three goals in just under a month.

Marcus Maddison scored an extraordinary free-kick in the last meeting between these two sides.

Marcus Maddison scored an extraordinary free-kick in the last meeting between these two sides.

Peterborough’s attacking players have largely failed to live up to the flair usually expected at London Road. The strikers Conor Washington and Luke James have largely been misfiring, although have showed signs of improvement along with the rest of the team of late. The main danger man will be Marcus Maddison, a languid winger who can compensate for his selfish tendencies with stunning long-range goals both in open plays and directly from set-pieces. Given our recent struggles with direct free-kicks, it wouldn’t be surprising to see his name on the scoresheet.

With first-choice centre-backs Gabriel Zakuani and Ricardo Santos unavailable for this fixture, Christian Burgess and Shaun Brisley will have to step up. Burgess, once a signing at Middlesbrough by Tony Mowbray, is an elegant, but somewhat error prone, ball-playing centre-back. Brisley is more run-of-the-mill centre-back who has struggled to nail down a starting spot in nearly three seasons with the club. In goal, Ben Alnwick has been one of Peterborough’s best players this season and regularly produces points-winning performances.

Peterborough have also added three players on loan deadline day with Bradford left-back Alan Sheehan, Leicester right-back James (son of Nigel) Pearson and recent Sky Blues loanee Luke Williams. Given the amount of goals that we have once again conceded to ex-players, I would be surprised of bookies were even taking bets on Williams scoring. Just to make sure that they do score against us, Sheehan is another threatening set-piece taker.

Hopefully some the opposite of two wrongs making a right will be in place here by the way that Peterborough have added players specifically designed to target our weaknesses.

Possible Line-Up: (4-2-3-1) Alnwick; Smith, Burgess, Brisley, Sheehan; Payne, Bostwick; Taylor, Maddison, Newell; James.

Prediction

On paper, a contest between a play-off chasing team in their best form of the season against a relegation battling side in largely indifferent form should be no contest. Where the game will be won and lost though will be on our ability to score goals versus Peterborough’s ability to keep them out. If we can take an early lead, as well as add to it, Peterborough’s struggles in front of goal could see this game go against the form book.

Still, you would imagine that Peterborough will be fired up for this home game as, unlike us, they can rely on a positive home atmosphere and the results that follow. I just have a strange feeling that we might cause something of an upset here though, 2-1 win for the Sky Blues.

Finding The Right Formula

A stirring comeback against a strong Peterborough United on Saturday side has ended a desperate winless run in the league for the Sky Blues. The original intention of this post was to posit some theories as to how to get the best out this squad. Steven Pressley on Saturday though displayed why he is the professional in charge of tactics and why I am the one whose role it is to lay the plaudits on him for getting so emphatically right.

Confusion. The responsibilities being asked of the team in a 5-3-2 shape.

Confusion. The responsibilities being asked of the team in a 5-3-2 shape.

Controversially to some of our fans, Steven Pressley had utilised a 5-3-2 formation in all but one game prior to last Saturday. The criticism of the system was mainly that the two in attack were often very isolated. In addition, the wing-backs were being asked to provide too much of the team’s creativity and the midfield had to work incredibly hard to maintain possession, protect the defence, press the opposition and, when they had some free time, get into the penalty area.

Some of the best sides in this division play a version of the 5-3-2 system, just over a month ago we were sitting in third place playing 5-3-2. However we never fully convinced over the course of 90 minutes whilst playing in the system and with the defence increasingly making sloppy individual errors, we were no longer receiving the benefit of more confident defensive displays than the previous season.

A degree of credit then has to go to Pressley for recognising that the system was not producing the expected results. The decision was certainly made easier by poor recent results but given that he spent most of the summer planning to play 5-3-2, it takes some guts to admit when you got it wrong in such a high profile position. Even better than identifying a problem, Pressley took the important next step in finding the solution.

The team's 4-4-2 shape in the second-half on Saturday against Peterborough.

The team’s 4-4-2 shape in the second-half on Saturday against Peterborough.

The key player tactically on Saturday was Ryan Haynes playing from the left-back position in a 4-4-2. For a long time this season I had been wondering whether Haynes was fortunate that by playing as a wing-back, his defensive deficiencies were less exposed and that in a back four he would struggle. Pressley appeared to accommodate for this by playing the defensive-minded Jordan Willis at right-back as well as another two defensive minded players in the central midfield areas in Adam Barton and Conor Thomas. He also had Reda Johnson playing as a left-sided central defender, a player whose physicality and confidence have been a major factor in helping Haynes through his early appearances for the club.

This meant that Haynes could do what he is best at, making surges into the opposition half and putting in high quality crosses. Whilst he was unable to provide an assist himself, his forward bursts gave the team an important outlet in attack. The fact that he scored from open play showed that he was free to get deep into the Peterborough half of the pitch and make the same kind of decisions an attacking player would do. I firmly believe that having a full-back scoring in open play is the sign of a team playing with self-belief, which is remarkable given that we were two goals down at the time Haynes scored.

The midfield were also balanced very well, playing narrowly and in way where each of their talents could be used to full effect. John Fleck on the left had Ryan Haynes supplying the width outside of him, this meant that Fleck could move inside into the ‘hole’ where he is capable of hurting the opposition, it also left him with fewer defensive responsibilities than when he plays in a two-man midfield. It was no coincidence that Fleck contributed his first two assists of the season and had a number of chances to score himself, this is what we expected from him when he arrived.

Adam Barton in a deep-lying role meant that Jim O’Brien an Conor Thomas were able to press the opposition without leaving the defence exposed. Barton’s calmness in possession is fast becoming a platform for the rest of the team to build from. Often Pressley has been unable to play him in a midfield two because Thomas and Fleck better fitted the pressing game that he wants from his team. In the current system Barton has energetic players all around him that will win him the ball and now we are starting to see him deliver on the promise that has always been apparent.

The second-half attacking duo also played a key role in the comeback on Saturday. It certainly aids a striker’s performance when he has support from midfield players getting forward but Frank Nouble and Simeon Jackson once again looked like a truly devastating strike partnership for this level of football. Although Jackson was not on the score-sheet, his substitution was important as he gave the opposing centre-backs more to think about with his positioning and intent compared to Josh McQuoid.

Nouble though is looking like the next in the line of David McGoldrick and Leon Clarke. Whilst less concerned with playing with his back to goal, Nouble is quick, strong live-wire that League One defenders cannot deal with when on form. He generally played to the right but he floated from wing to wing when the inspiration took him. A major worry is that his loan spell expires in January but let’s enjoy him even if he’s only here for a while.

The showed the spirit it had looked like missing in recent weeks.

The showed the spirit it had looked like missing in recent weeks.

Whilst the victory on Saturday was in part down to the role of the team’s tactical shape, even more important was the spirit and desire that the team played with in the second half. It’s hard to win football games when your team can barely pass to each other and struggles to win possession back in the midfield area. After witnessing that first-half performance, few would have felt that the team would have been able to turn the game around.

If we have learned anything from last season though, it is that it is better to end well than to start well. Look at Sheffield United and Bristol City compared to us this season. A dreadful start forced them to put things in order after seasons of underperformance. The head-start we had last season with our early form allowed us to become complacent, nearly costing us our place in the division.

In the first half Conor Thomas looked slow, ponderous and devoid of confidence. In the second half he worked harder to win the ball back and was a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps it took the introspection caused by a two-goal deficit in the game to inspire such a turnaround in application. Momentum is important in football, we will now be looking forward to next Saturday and Peterborough will be the ones doubting themselves this week.

Things can be improved upon heading into the Leyton Orient game and there are still some areas of weakness that need to be addressed. The left of our team for instance looks vulnerable defensively and it appears that we certainly need a new goalkeeper after Lee Burge’s howler. Saturday showed though that confidence, momentum and desire can transform a team’s performance. Whilst it was only one win, there are signs that perhaps a formula for success has been found for this season and this squad.