Wednesday, 11 September 2013
The Inside Line: Peterborough United (14/09/2013)
After a win against the G*s and a refreshing international break, it’s back to the serious business of the league as City welcome a familiar face in Peterborough United to Ashton Gate.
The Posh have hit the ground running so far with a flood of goals and currently sit in third position with all but one of their squad having played Championship football last term. Whilst I'd love to say this was a top-of-the-table clash against our promotion rivals, in contrast City boast a bill of fresh faces and are very much a work in progress with a mixed set of results to date.
Posh also boast one of the longest-running and betterclub podcasts around and I’m pleased that Lewis Hancock sought out two of its stalwarts, host Jamie Jones and regular contributer John Verrall to introduce us to one of the favourites for the League One title.
You were relegated alongside us last campaign. Whilst ours was warranted, did you consider your demotion to be unlucky (Posh went down with 54 points, a record tally for a relegated side. Remarkably, they also scored more goals than Hull City and only won four fewer games than Crystal Palace, both of whom are now in the Premier League)?
Jamie Jones: To have made such a terrible start last season (losing our first 7 games), we ended up having an amazing second half of the season. To come within 2 minutes of staying in The Championship, only to concede the winner at Selhurst Park on the final day was my worst moment in 31 years of watching The Posh. We weren’t unlucky though, we finished with the 3rd worst points total in the division over 46 matches so deserved to be relegated
John Verrall: Yes, whilst there is a common cliché in football that the league table never lies, for us, last season’s table felt like it did. Granted, there is no excuse to making as bad a start as we did – losing 14 of our first 18 games – but Darren Ferguson developed the squad by making a series of astute signings and tactical changes and we soon showed that the squad that we had in place was perfectly capable of competing at Championship level, losing just five times in the league in 2013.
You’ve only lost one in all competitions so far this season, scoring 25 goals in the process (including a 6-0 hammering of Championship side Reading). Are Posh capable of carrying on this sort of form?
JJ: We have been absolutely brilliant in 3 games so far (Notts County away, Tranmere Away, Reading at home), average but winning in 2 (Oldham and Swindon at home) and then pretty dire in 2 (Crawley at home, Crewe away). Fergie has persisted with the midfield diamond, which has served us well in the past but can also lead to a real lack of width and pace. He is also still yet to really decide on his favoured back 4 and midfield quartet. Once he can settle on a starting 11, we will kick on again.
JV: Despite our impressive record we haven’t actually hit top-gear yet and some of our performances – especially at home – have fallen short of expectations. There is certainly a hope that we can at least continue this current form, but I think most are expecting an improvement on the manner of our performances, even if that sounds a funny thing to say after such a successful start.
Peterborough are many fans’ tip for the League One title this season (ER - including mine!), do you share that view and is promotion a realistic target?
JJ: In our pre-season podcast, both Chris (my co-host) and I predicted that we would win the league. That makes us sound like arrogant toss-pots, but I still firmly believe it. I honestly think that we have the strongest squad in this league, and if we can keep it together and get some consistent spells of form then we will go up.
We are strong all over the pitch, from Olejnik in goal to Zakuani/Boswick in defence through Payne/McCann in midfield and Assombalonga with a rejuvenated Tyrone Barnett up front. The key to it all though is Lee Tomlin. Like George Boyd before him, he has become our talisman, the player that makes the whole team tick, which is why Darragh will fight to keep him.
JV: As I said earlier, the squad that got relegated from the Championship last year proved that it was capable of competing at that level. We have only lost one player from that team – albeit probably the biggest star in Dwight Gayle – and we have replaced him with Britt Assombalonga, who has been excellent so far.
There is an expectation that has never been around London Road before this season and there can be no question that we have one of the best squads in this division, so anything other than promotion will be seen as a failure.
Darragh MacAnthony, is a very honest, expressive chairman and interacts with supporters via Twitter on a regular basis. What are your opinions on him?
JJ: Darragh has always been open and expressive since he arrived at London Road. This used to be via the local media and even via 2 very honest and frank interviews that he gave to our unofficial fans podcast.
Since then, fans across the country and the media have embraced his style and thus he now has a big following on Twitter and is regularly on Sky Sports News. I would say that 99% of Posh fans are very glad to have him as our Chairman, and personally I am delighted that he continues to push the club forward.
JV: MacAnthony is probably the best thing that ever has happened to Peterborough United. He has transformed this club from top to bottom since his arrival in 2006. He brought a purpose and an ambition to the club that it had never had before and then backed it up with an intelligent plan.
He insisted that he would try to bring in the best, young players from the lower-leagues and non-league football and test them at higher levels and with the new found funding that he provided Posh could finally afford to bring in talented players. Since then we’ve had the likes of Dwight Gayle, Ryan Bennett, George Boyd, Craig Mackail-Smith and Aaron McLean, to name just a few, and times have never been better to follow Posh.
Posh made a very healthy profit when selling Dwight Gayle to Crystal Palace. How well has record-signing Britt Assombalonga done to fill the void?
JJ: We have got a very proud reputation for buying strikers, developing them and then selling them on for huge profits. The early signs are that Britt will follow in the footsteps of Dwight Gayle, Craig Mackail-Smith and Aaron McLean.
Britt has hit the ground running with his goals, and if he gets a chance in behind the back 4 then nobody will stop him. He is still raw in some of his link up play, and the dirty, horrible work that all centre forwards need to do when in a Fergie team, but his potential is huge. Many Posh fans, myself included, snapped up the 22/1 that was on offer for him to be League One top scorer on the eve of the season
JV: He’s made a very bright start. He has already scored five goals for the club and he looks a real threat. He is very quick and very clinical – the two attributes that made Gayle such a success here – but Gayle looked slightly closer to the finished article than Assombalonga currently is, despite still having rawness in his game.
Assombalonga, though, has all the facets to his game that are needed to make a top striker. He can drop deep, and possesses excellent strength for a player of his size, but he can also run in behind and generally prefers to play on the shoulder of the last defender.
He could well be the next in a long-line of Posh strikers to go on and make a name for himself here before moving onto a higher level.
Who else should City fans watch out this coming Saturday?
JJ: Tyrone Barnett has been a revelation this season. We bought him for a club record £1.1m a couple of years ago, and after a good start he went totally downhill. After some awful performances on the pitch, and a late-night town-centre skirmish that infuriated Fergie, he went out on loan last season and we all thought that was his time at London Road over.
Pre-season, as fans I think we would happily have given him a free transfer and paid for his taxi to another club. He then did well in pre-season, got into the team and is now showing that he can be a massive aerial presence, links play very well and has a really sharp eye for goal for such a big man.
JV: Lee Tomlin is probably the best player in League One, on his day. Tomlin has the ability, I believe, to play in the Premier League, but whether he makes it to the top will all depend on his attitude. He can be petulant, but he can also be brilliant and if he can perform to his maximum then he should have no problems forcing the move that he has publically been asking for.
However, Tomlin hasn’t played at the top of his game in any of league fixtures so far and the star of the show has been a somewhat surprising package in Tyrone Barnett. This season he has been like a new signing for us and his pace and power has caused no end of problems. He has scored in every away game we have played so far this season and will look to continue this run on Saturday
John's already discussed Lee Tomlin, who is a player documented for wanting out. Is it damaging having a player in your squad that doesn’t want to be there?
JJ: It is frustrating that he wants to leave certainly. On his day, Tomlin is one of the finest players I have ever seen wear the blue shirt. When he is not on his day, he can be petulant, petty and incredibly annoying. With Boydy gone to Hull, we really need Tomlin to stay, at least until the end of the season to help fire us back to the Championship. Celtic were, to be blunt, idiots offering £1.2M and then £1.4M for him. I don’t blame the lad for wanting to go, but Darragh never sells our players cheaply and certainly not Lee Tomlin, who is his favourite player.
What's important now is that the lad gets on with the games ahead of him and gets us back into winning ways. I fear that January will see further bids from Celtic, with his agent attempting again to force Posh into accepting a deal. He is still under contract though, so will only be allowed to leave when Darragh/Fergie consider the timing and the price is right.
JV: Yes, I’ve already touched upon this briefly, but the hope is that Tomlin will continue to play to the standard that he set himself towards the back-end of last season.
His attitude is a worry, mind and he isn’t as professional as other players that we have had, and kept, in similar scenarios before – such as George Boyd and Aaron McLean – so there can certainly be a question of how well he will apply himself.
And finally, can I please get a prediction for the match?
JJ: We are unbeaten away from home, and I think that will continue with a 1-1 draw. I am sure Baldock will score for you and provoke the displeasure of the travelling Posh fans. Thanks to his Franchise FC connections and his very odd “almost” transfer to London Road a couple of years ago, he is not popular with the Posh fans.
JV: I think this is the toughest test we have faced so far this season and I would be happy with a point, to be honest. I expect it to be a close encounter – 1-1, seems a likely result.
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