As Peterborough United dropped out of last season’s Play-Off Semi-final to Leyton Orient, I struggled to think of even one reason why I and my fellow Peterborough United fans should be optimistic about the 2014/15 season. Ultimately, the fantastic start of the season carried us through as we clung, white knuckled to the final Play-Off spot. The team had vastly under performed for large sections of the season with Wembley’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory the only fond memory of a disappointing campaign.
But out of the pessimism came a summer of optimism. Signings were made, spirits were lifted. But why exactly should we be optimistic for the season ahead?
1) THE TRANSFER WINDOW
The signings acquired by the Posh should be reason enough to breathe fresh optimism into Peterborough United fans, largely as we have signed players that we have needed. In transfer windows past I had become frustrated that we were not filling the holes that needed to be filled in the squad. Every problem seemed to try and be solved by signing another striker. But this has not been the case this time around. When the released and retained list was released shortly after the Play-Off disappointment, Posh fans were in agreement of the positions that needed strengthening. A goalkeeper, a right back, a couple of wingers, and a number 10.
Messrs MacAnthony, Fry and Ferguson were clearly in agreement and wasted no time in getting the incomings completed. Ben Alnwick was brought in on a free transfer to ease the threat of The Posh starting the season without a goal keeper with Joe Day and last seasons Player of the Year Bobby Olejnik both transfer listed. Michael Smith has rid Ferguson of his right back headache after Craig Alcock and fan favourite Mark Little both left after their contracts expired last season. The 25 year-old was voted as League Two’s best right-back last season and was signed from relegated Bristol Rovers for an undisclosed fee. Shrewsbury’s former scouse star Jon Taylor and Gareth Bale doppelganger Kenny McEvoy have banished any worries of the lack of wingers at the club. Taylor has been one of the stars of Peterborough’s pre-season, forming an exciting partnership with left back Kgosi Ntlhe, whilst McEvoy impressed straight away on his debut, after arriving on loan from Tottenham Hotspur for the season, especially with the quality of his crossing ability. A number 10 was a position in desperate need of filling after the departure of Lee Tomlin to Middelsbrough in January of last season. Step forward ‘Turkish Delight’ Ehrun Oztumer. The 23-year old signed for The Posh on a two year deal from non-league outfit Dulwich Hamlet. Touted as the ‘Turkish Messi’ by Chairmen Darragh MacAnthony, Oztumer is all set to be one of season’s most exciting players.
The only cause for concern for fans is the lack of out goings. With football fair play being enforced, Posh will need to start selling if they are to avoid the wrath of the Football League.
2) THE YOUTH
Darren Ferguson has expressed that he hopes that by the end of the season he has at least five or six youth team products in the match day squad. Chairman, Darragh MacAnthony echoed his manager’s enthusiasm for the youth, saying he will “not sign players if it means halting the progress of the youth”. With young South African Kgosi Ntlhe the most successful of the recent crop of youth team graduates, many seem set to follow in his foot steps and perhaps even cement a place in the first team themselves. Jermaine Anderson, Tom Conlon, Ollie Luto and Rob Duggan are all threatening to break the first team.
Jermaine Anderson, or ‘Yaya’ as the Chairman has fondly dubbed him, has been one of the stand out players from Peterborough’s pre-season, and looks set to be the next player to become an ever present in the match day squad.
A pointer of just how promising the youth at The Posh is, is the bench in a recent friendly against Charlton Athletic. Every player (bar Nathaniel Mendez-Laing) was a youth team graduate. Joe Day, Michael Richens, Rob Duggan, Liam Marshall, Jonathan Edwards, Tom Conlon and the aforementioned Jermaine Anderson made up the bench with fellow graduate Ollie Luto in the starting XI.
A lot gets said and discussed about the relevance of pre-season results and performances. But the bottom line is, winning is never bad and breads confidence. Something Peterborough have done in a pre-season campaign which has already seen them get their hands on some silver ware. The Posh have played six pre-season friendlies so far and remain unbeaten, winning four and drawing two. Results include a 2-2 draw with newly promoted Wolves, a 2-1 win against Championship Play-Off semi finalists Brighton and Hove Albion, and a 2-1 win over Daventry Town to lift the Maunsell Cup. But it is the performances more than the results which is a cause for optimism. In my season preview, I wrote of how the fans want a return to attacking, free flowing football and lots of goals. I wrote this prior to our first friendly versus Barnet, with the hope that the friendly matches would show a return to the style of football that has become a trademark of Peterborough United. The club have not disappointed. Scoring 11 goals in the six friendlies shows how Ferguson plans to set up his team this season, and this, I believe, is down to the wingers introduced and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing’s positive attitude.
Pre-season has also given opportunity for players to prove their worth, and give the manager a few selection headaches. Young Portuguese centre back Ricardo Santos has been the most promising and surprising of all, constantly improving and continuing to impress the manager who says he is “breathing down the necks'” of first choice defenders Gabriel Zakuani and Jack Baldwin. Kyle Vassell is another player who has Ferguson reaching for the aspirin. The former Bishop’s Stortford man has been the most prolific player in pre-season netting four times including goals in both the Wolves and Brighton matches. With his 31 goals last campaign, Britt Assombalonga will be confident of retaining his place, but strike partner Conor Washington may well be looking over his shoulder.
4) TEAM SPIRIT IS HIGH
Yes, I know, every club always bangs on about “How great the lads have been”, “There’s so much banter” etc etc. But the scale with which the spirit of the team has been reported this season means there must be some substance. Gabriel Zakuani has led the praises from the players whilst Darren Ferguson says the spirit reminds him of past promotion seasons.
Near enough everyone inside the club has praised the spirit and camaraderie between the players, something that seemed to be lacking last season. Both MacAnthony and Ferguson agree that the youth graduates being around has helped massively, saying that they make him feel younger!
Something that was severely lacking last campaign. Many players found themselves running down the last year of their contracts, unsure of where they’d be playing the following season. Influential players like captain Tommy Rowe and right backs Craig Alcock and Mark Little all knew they would be leaving. Lee Tomlin also became unsettled. After seeing Dwight Gayle get a big money move to the Premier League, he felt he was entitled to the same. So when he learnt that the club had turned down an offer from Celtic, the number 10 got itchy feet and soon became clearly desperate for a move away.
But this season, players are tied down, and they want to play for the club.
Darren Ferguson’s new three year deal is also a cause for optimism. With the Scot now knowing where his future lies, he can focus all his attention onto The Posh, and not some of the rumours that fly around every time a manager in the Football League leaves his club. With the large majority of fans (myself included) calling for Fergie to go, it is a massive possibility, if not a certainty that the manager nay have thought at times, what’s the point?
6) STADIUM DEVELOPMENTS
For the first time in my Peterborough United supporting life, next season we will have three stands of Posh fans at London Road, and I for one cannot wait!
The Moy’s End Terrace, much loved by away fans,was torn down last season to be replaced by an all seater stand. There was, and still is, much sadness at the taking down of the terrace, but I believe that this change nothing but a good thing. It shows progression, and a step in the right direction to improving our fan base. Let’s be honest, not many people are going to be tempted into going to a match if they hear that you have to stand! The introduction of the all seater stand is, I hope, the first of many steps taken by the club to make the stadium more accessible and attractive to new potential fans.
Also, think how good it will be for the players! To have three complete stands of Posh fans cheering them on and cheering their names. Many Posh fans will tell you that the players often got a boost when shooting towards the London Road End (the home fan’s terrace). But now they will be shooting towards ‘The Blue Army’ in both halves.
So in the end, I actually struggled to narrow down my reasons to six. The flourishing strike partnership of Britt Assombalonga and Conor Washington didn’t even make the cut, nore did the ever improving Jack Baldwin, or the return of ‘The Great Wall of Congo’ Gaby Zakuani. So, Posh fans, be positive!