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.
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.
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.
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.