If we’re at the stage of the season now where points are more important than performances, then Tuesday night was good enough. The suspicion is if we replicated that performance against Fleetwood in this upcoming game against Peterborough United, things may be different, but winning can often provide that extra belief and spring in the step required to play better and beget strong runs of form.
Liam Kelly’s traffic-induced absence from the Tuesday’s win over Fleetwood Town encapsulated the horrible luck we’re enduring with injuries, suspensions and freak happenings right now. However, with Kelly back in the fold for this game, the return from suspension of Bright Enobakhare, as well as Jordan Ponticelli and Zain Westbrooke being fit enough for the bench on Tuesday night, Robins is suddenly blessed with options again.
In defence, as admirably as Morgan Williams held his own on his debut against a tough Fleetwood attack, he looked very much a raw talent who should preferably be spared from regular first-team football right now. Whether he can be taken out of the side depends on the fitness of Jordan Willis, although with Williams unable to last the 90 minutes on Tuesday, Robins may well start Jack Grimmer at centre-back. At left-back, Junior Brown looks set for a return to the starting line-up after a reasonable cameo against Fleetwood and with Brandon Mason seemingly out of form.
The midfield is likely to be re-jigged back to the formula that began this upturn in form, with Bright Enobakhare slotting into his number 10 role and Liam Kelly holding things together in a deeper position. Although it was a commendable effort on Tuesday night, the lack of creativity in midfield – Tom Bayliss aside – and the ease with which Fleetwood played through the centre of the park highlighted the importance of the duo.
Last Time We Met
With Peterborough United, having arguably been second-best – at the very least, in terms of possession – preying on a Michael Doyle error to take the lead in the closing stages at the Ricoh Arena back in November, our last clash with the Posh looked set to be playing out in a typical fashion to most of our home losses this season. However, a simple punt forward into Peterborough’s penalty area straight from the ensuing kick-off saw Amadou Bakayoko play Conor Chaplin in for a tap-in that ensured what was probably a just share of the points.
Manager – Darren Ferguson
In what was one of the most entirely predictable managerial sackings of the season in Steve Evans, Peterborough then made one of the most entirely predictable managerial appointments in bringing back Darren Ferguson for a third spell at the club. Any hopes for a new manager bounce to assert themselves in the play-offs has been dashed with a poor run of just two wins in eight games since Ferguson’s return.
While it hasn’t been an encouraging run for a manager who has already been publicly backed by his chairman to stay on for next season, Ferguson can probably point towards the horribly imbalanced squad left to him by his predecessor as a mitigating factor. This is a side positively top-loaded with attacking talent, but finding a formula to get their best players on the pitch at the same time – or even to find a functioning starting XI – has proven challenging, with Ferguson changing through formations on a game-by-game basis, inevitably leading to disjointed performances.
Who To Look Out For?
If ever there was one player that epitomised what a club stands for, it’s Marcus Maddison. Plucked from non-league Gateshead, Maddison has been a mercurial and stand-out talent in League One since his arrival and has long been tipped to make the step up at least one level. With a ball-striking technique that is both powerful and accurate – much like classic Cristiano Ronaldo – Maddison can easily blow teams away in League One but has perhaps turned-off interest from a higher-level due to his individualistic qualities.
In bringing Lee Tomlin back to the club in January, Peterborough not only added another creative attacking midfield player they didn’t really need but perhaps gave Maddison an ominous look into life away from London Road. Tomlin is another incredible individual talent – this time a more diminutive, nimble-footed dribbler who glides through opposing defences – but is someone whose career stalled at a higher-level due to his difficulties in playing as part of a team-unit rather than in a side built specifically around his talents.
Away from those two, Peterborough have two strikers in Ivan Toney and Matt Godden who have been regular goalscorers this season. Toney has proven definitively this season that he is one of the best all-round strikers at this level, a big physical presence who can really rub opposing defenders (and fans) the wrong way but possesses excellent pace and skill as well. Godden is more of a classic goal poacher who is relishing playing in a side with so much creative talent.
With Callum Cooke, Kyle Dempsey, Louis Reed, George Cooper, Siriki Demblele and Joe Ward all creative players who would walk into most sides at this level, Peterborough certainly aren’t wanting for a creative spark or two, or three, etc.
Areas To Exploit
On the face of it, as much as Peterborough are top-loaded with attacking and creative players, they aren’t lacking in quality in defence either. Left-back Danny Lafferty was a key player in Sheffield United’s promotion from this level a few seasons ago, centre-back Ryan Tafazolli is a dominant presence, while defensive midfielder Alex Woodyard is a workhorse who runs hard yards to cover in front of the backline.
However, it’s been a combination of some poor defensive recruitment from Steve Evans – with Colin Daniel (now at Burton Albion) and Rhys Bennett the most maligned recruits – and the lack of balance between defence and attack that has caused Peterborough’s defensive problems this season. While a win here would provide Peterborough’s play-off bid with a shot in the arm, it already feels as if they’re waiting for next season to launch a promotion bid.