The last League One campaign of 2010-2011 saw the archetypal Peterborough United of the MacAnthony era: a team that scored goals for fun, slayed giants, but that also haemorrhaged defensively, on an almost weekly basis.
The tail end of 2012-2013 saw a tightening up of the ship at the back (just ignore Crystal Palace please). Partly it seems due to the introduction of ex-Posh and Republic of Ireland centre back Gary Breen as a first-team coach, partly down to the exceptional performance of midfield enforcer turned rock at the centre of defence Michael Bostwick and partly down to the form of the seemingly Birmingham-bound Jack Payne.
This campaign, if the team goes into the season with most of the same side that finished our ill-fated Championship campaign, it COULD be more of the same as the 2010-2011 venture.
DMAC seems to want to see us play the diamond formation which succeeded, after the return of Fergie Jnr. in the second half of the 2010-2011 season, with ‘Lee Tomlin playing behind two pacey 30-goal a season strikers.’
Whether that comes to fruition is partly down to whether we can keep our grubby League One mitts on the tremendous talents of Lee Tomlin and Dwight Gayle, and if we can find somebody to partner the pesky ex-Stansted man up top as he comes face to face with the brutish defences of League One for the first time.
I’m in the camp of thought that it would take utterly stupid money for any club to pry Gayle or Tomlin from our grasp. So I fully expect to see them in Posh shirts for the upcoming promotion push. But in football anything can happen.
Whether Ferguson follows his fearless leader’s calls for a 4-1-2-1-2, is something which I won’t be dabbling into.
What I will be dipping my toes in to though, is how the expected departure’s gaps will be filled. Gabriel Zakuani and Tommy Rowe are two players on the transfer list, and whether it’s a good idea for their careers or not is hardly my business. However, how they are replaced in the 2013-2014 season, is something I am curious about.
Defence – Rowe and Zakuani to go?
Tommy Rowe at times last year was inspirational. Whether he had been secretly training with Gareth Bale is up for debate. But what is certain is that no current Posh player will be able to replicate his lung-busting 60-70m runs from deep which carved defences open at the mid-point of the season and won matches solely due to his contributions.
What Posh do have, is a young left back, who in our most despairing part of last season, plugged on and proved to be a more than a sturdy stopgap at Championship level, in the shape of Kgosi Nlthe.
Already he’s been called up for a full South African international squad. Against Brazil no less.
The diminutive youth-team graduate showed enough in his first full season, even with an almost season-ending injury, to merit the chance to make the troublesome Posh left back slot his own. Defensively solid, he will be comfortable in a back-four behind a flat bank of four and with the attacking instinct to be able to contribute width to a diamond formation and as the left sided wing back of a 5-3-2.
The Zakuani situation is even less of an issue. Whilst Gabby may be a firm fans’ favourite, with his Terrier baiting, Twitter banter and his general no-nonsense style of defending – he’s not the ball-playing defender that a Ferguson team craves. Michael Bostwick was the stand-out centre back last season as he was comfortable on the deck and the ground. A skillset which sadly, the ex-Potter, Zakuani lacks.
Waiting in the wings are the more than capable Shaun Brisley, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, Craig Alcock and perhaps even James Sage – all players who could fill the gap left by big Gabz, in any formation that Fergsuon chooses to tackle League One.
The seemingly imminent loss of Mark Little is disappointing, due to the Wolves trainee’s fantastic levels of effort in a Posh shirt over the last three and a half years. But again, ready to step in Posh have the capable, steady eddyish replacement in the shape of Craig Alcock and a more wildcard option in highly rated, though injury-plagued, wing-back Michael Richens, who we poached from Luton a few years back.
The defence, it seems is as sorted as a Posh backline will ever be. Olejnik proved to be comfortable at Championship level, and at League One I fully expect him to be one of the division’s best #1’s, and if he could work on his kicking over summer though, well that would be just fantastic.
Midfield – Posh’s Payne, Birmingham’s gain?
It’s in midfield that the saddest story of Posh’s off-season is most likely to emerge from – this being the inability to sign young loan-star Jack Payne whose displays after we plucked him from Gillingham, showed a maturity and a level of ability that belayed his tender age.
A midfield two of Grant McCann (contract renewal permitting), and Payne in League One was a perfect board to build attacks on and while Kane Ferdinand is still somewhat an unknown entity, providing energy and graft, Payne’s composure on the ball and ability to break up play seemed a perfect fit for the Posh midfield in League One – whether we went for a diamond, 3 centre backs(3-5-1-1), or a flat 4-4-2.
If we do go hell or glory again in League One, with the diamond formation, then wingers like Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Joe Newell may struggle for gametime in their preferred positions. As while they’re both capable of playing in multiple positions, somewhat awkwardly (Newell at LWB vs. Crystal Palace at home for example), their true callings lie out wide running at full-backs. However, if Posh go 4-4-2, then the Swanson’s, the Newell’s and the Mendez-Laing’s could find their level at League One, causing havoc to lumbering, ageing League One full-backs. A boy can dream surely?
Forwards – To trust in youth? How very Posh
Up front, as mentioned earlier, it is whether we can keep hold of Tomlin and Gayle which will be integral this summer. As receiving big fees for either would be fine for the club, but the search for a future 30-goal a season striker or creative force, willing to come to a recently relegated club, may in fact be difficult – no matter what our tremendous record of unearthing non-league gems is and our newfound financial clout.
Twitter tattle leads me to believe that many Posh fans see youth striking sensations Janaii Gordon-Hutton and Shaquille McDonald, as the future of Posh’s strike force. With their youth team record bordering on the ridiculous, it’s difficult to disagree.
However, the youth team, and first-team graft in League One week-in week-out are very different things. To pin a promotion push on the goals of these two starlets, could see fans disappointed and the careers of two young Posh products damaged in the process. Something which, with players of such promise I’m reluctant to vindicate.
As it is so early in the club’s transfer dealings, it is extremely difficult to judge who will still be at the club, who we will bring in, and how we will eventually start the inaugural game of our season.
Written by John Fernandez, We Are Going Up’s Peterborough United Blogger
John tweets @johnfernandez1