John Verrall, editor of the Standing on the Glebe blog, was kind enough to answer a few questions about one of the most entertaining and unpredictable clubs in the Championship – Peterborough United – ahead of what I think will be a very difficult game on Saturday.
In case you haven’t noticed, Posh are unbeaten in ten league matches. They’ve beaten Cardiff and Watford during that run and have actually been running at automatic promotion form since the start of March. If this wasn’t a freak season, they would probably be almost safe by now, but as it is, they still sit 20th, only out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
This is the sort of fixture we have lost plenty of times in the past. If we play as we can do at home – and take our bloody chances – we should be fine, but Peterborough will come with confidence and with goal threats, not least the dangerous Dwight Gayle. Derby haven’t had the sort of defence that can deny a striker in form for some time now, so we must tread carefully.
Things didn’t look great for Posh at the end of February, when you were bottom of the table, but since then, you haven’t lost in ten games. The return of 1.8 points per match during that run is promotion form… So where did it all go right?
It’s hard to pin-point the exact reason for our fortunes changing, but we seem to have been a different team ever since we beat Cardiff 2-1 in December. That win galvanised the team and provided them with the confidence that they are good enough for this level after such a disastrous start [Posh lost their first seven matches of the season on the spin, going on to lose 16 of their first 21 games].
We have now lost only four games out of our last 21 and would sit two-points off top if the table had started on December 9th.
In spite of that remarkable turnaround in form, you are still very much mixed up in the relegation scrap (and we’re still not safe on 55 points!) Do you put that down to a high standard of competition in the division, or is it more that there are a lot of average sides taking points off each other?
It’s been a crazy division this year, no doubt. The points total required to stay up is going to be above the previous record of 52 and I believe we need four points from our final three games to be sure of safety.
I don’t think it’s a poor standard this year. There is definitely not much difference between the teams at the top and nearer the bottom of the table and, without wanting to sound too clichéd, anybody can beat anybody in this league.
Goals seem to fly in at both ends when Peterborough are around. Do you revel in the entertainment value of ‘goal fests’ like the 5-4 win against Bolton, or is it maddening when you can’t keep clean sheets?
We’re nowhere near as ‘gung-ho’ in our approach as we used to be, actually. We are still keen to attack in numbers, but are noticeably more tactically astute in choosing when we go forward nowadays. We look to pick teams off on the counter, rather than committing a lot of men forward and disregarding defence like we used to. We have had three 0-0 draws since the turn of the year, as a result, after going over 150 games without one previously.
Tell us all about Dwight Gayle, who has taken to the Championship with goalscoring aplomb…
He has been a massive influence on our season. Nobody was expecting him to have this sort of impact – including Darren Ferguson, who had agreed to loan him back to Dagenham & Redbridge [Gayle joined Peterborough on loan from the Daggers in November. The move was made permanent for an initial £500,000 in January]. However, after picking up the Championship Player of the Month award in his first month at the club, he was never going to go back and I genuinely believe Posh have one of the best strikers outside of the Premier League now. 13 goals in 26 games would back that opinion up, too.
He’s been a revelation for us and just continues to get better. Darren Ferguson and Darragh MacAnthony recently said they believe he’s a top-half Premier League striker and, although I don’t think he’s quite that good yet, he certainly has the potential to play at the top-level.
He’s quick, direct and clinical, but he also links play up well and is intelligent in his movement. He doesn’t really have any weaknesses to his game and he continues to develop every week – there is a noticeable difference in the way he understands the game already compared to when he first joined. Without him I think we would have been relegated.
Who are the other key players in the Posh side at the moment?
Central midfielder Jack Payne is a player who has been really impressive since joining from Gillingham on loan. He’s not played too many games at this level, but already looks a natural and is very combative, but he’s got great technical ability and really dictates play. He has grown into a really important player for us in a short space of time [it will be interesting to see how he compares with our own midfield tyro, Jeff Hendrick].
Elsewhere, Tommy Rowe will probably be named our player of the season after a string of excellent performances at left wing-back. Lee Tomlin is starting to grow into the player we all hoped he would be if he got the better of his temperament too. Gayle wouldn’t be half as effective without the creativity of Tomlin behind him.
What do you think has been the key to Peterborough being able to compete so well at this level, despite having the lowest gates in the division by far?
Our transfer policy and Darren Ferguson. We have a habit of being able to replace key players with young, untested ones and they have all proved to be good enough. Much credit much go to our scouting network, because they continuously find gems from the lower-leagues before bigger clubs do.
How highly do you rate Darren Ferguson?
Very. He has tried a lot of different formations this season to get things to work and has now found the winning formula. We are changing systems to give ourselves the best chance against each opposition side and his attention to detail is incredible. I just don’t understand why he’s not linked to more high-profile jobs – although I would quite like to keep it that way!