So, pre-season is drawing to a close, and performances have been a brilliant concoction of promising and exciting football, and the team as a whole have impressed.
But which individuals will stand out this season from a team looking to attack their way to The Championship? All over the pitch, individuals have been trying to prove their worth to the manager Darren Ferguson, but who, when the pressure cooker that is League One starts to heat up, will stamp their mark on the season?
1) RICARDO SANTOS
From a young, rookie defender, to knocking on the first team door. All in the space of a few months. What has already impressed most about Ricardo Santos is the rate at which he is improving. Signed back in February, the then 18 year old was not expected to even be around the first team squad for a couple of seasons.
But rapid his rapid rate of improvement, and impressive performances in training and youth team matches saw him make his debut in the final game of the season against Port Vale.
This was a match that also saw the youngster played out of his comfort zone. Despite being signed as a centre back, Santos was deployed as a right back as cover for Craig Alcock and Mark Little, who would both play in the upcoming play-off games, and played the full 90 minutes. To play out of position for 90 minutes on your debut at 18, and come away from the encounter as one of the ‘Men of the Match’ was already massively impressive.
Another attribute of Ricardo’s shone through during this match. An attribute that would endear him to any fans, of any team. He showed a willingness to play through the pain barrier. Heavily limping as the game wore on, he refused to stop. Moved up front he still ran for the ball and managed to cause the defence problems.
Santos has also been receiving praise everywhere he looks in pre-season. Fans, Chairman, Manager, players you name the position, they’ll have praised him. Leading the praise has been ‘veteran’ Gabriel Zakuani, who has played the role of tutor to Ricardo. Another sign of the youngster’s improvement is in the air.
“He’s improved his fitness… but for a big lad he needs to improve his aerial ability”
These were the words of Darren Ferguson at beginning of pre-season in Portugal. In the friendlies since arriving back from the foreign training camp against Wolves, Brighton and Charlton, whenever Santos has played, he has won at least 90% of his headers. This shows a willingness to learn and, again, how quickly he can improve.
When he was signed he was “one for the future”. But that has quickly turned into the immediate future, and I fully expect the 19 year-old to play a big role this season.
2) JON TAYLOR
After a pre-season of goals, assists and flair, the summer signing looks set to be an ever present in the starting XI at London Road.
The signing of Shrewsbury’s 2013/14 Player of the Season, and top scorer with nine goals, was enough to cause mass excitement amongst The Posh faithful on its own.
Taylor is another player who has impressed immensely in pre-season, with his lightning pace proving too much for every defender he has come up against. The young Scouser’s opening games has caused another exciting feature to surface.
On his debut against Barnet, it became quickly apparent that Taylor, and young left back Kgosi Ntlhe were going to be a terrifying partnership for all right backs in League One. The pair caused defences problems all pre-season and their remarkable ability to get two on one with the full back on nearly every attack, will prove an incredibly valuable attacking asset this campaign.
It was a freshly formed partnership which has quickly proved it’s fruitfulness as Ntlhe’s overlapping run between the defence was picked out by Taylor, and the young South African left-back made no mistake with the finish.
Work rate is an attribute that Peterborough United fans hold in very high esteem. If a player works hard, and runs non-stop for the team, they will be liked. Simple. Taylor has shown in pre-season his willingness to run back when his left back is caught out of position, or even just to add more bodies. This is something I believe we have lacked over the previous two campaigns, perhaps due to the lack of wingers used in the much maligned diamond formation, which has often left the full backs exposed. But now, with the introduction of wingers, the system has been changed, and Taylor has license to show off his superb work rate.
However, it has not just been the way the 21 year-old has performed on the pitch which has impressed the fans. His attitude off it has also been outstanding. The most notable occasion was on his arrival at London Road. Chairman, Darragh MacAnthony revealed on twitter that other clubs had offered 50% more wages than what Peterborough United were offering. Taylor, however, would not be perturbed.
“When I spoke to the manager, there was only one team I wanted to join…. This was definitely the best decision.”
Yes Jon, yes it was.
3) JERMAINE ANDERSON
Jermaine, or ‘Yaya’ as Darragh MacAnthony has affectionately dubbed him, has been arguably the shining light of Peterborough United’s pre-season, and, like Santos, his improvement has been remarkable.
When Jermaine was given his first spell in the first team last season, starting away at Brentford, there were a few eyebrows raised and questions asked. Last campaign a lack of consistency seemed to be the then 17 year-old’s biggest drawback, and Jermaine himself admitted he would not give his overall performance more than a “six or seven” out of ten. A strong performance preceded a lacklustre one. The focal point in one match, invisible in the next. These are demons the now 18 year-old appears to have laid to rest in pre-season.
I wrote in my ‘Reasons to be cheerful season preview’, that confidence was one of the factors that held the young midfielder back most last season. If the pre-season friendlies are anything to go by, this is another problem he has resolved. The overcoming of his confidence problems on the pitch is best shown in match against SC Freamunde in which The Posh won 4-2. In the opening 45 minutes, Anderson received the ball inside his own half with two Freamunde players bearing down on him. But in one slick motion, the midfielder turned, and left both of them in a haze, and cleaning grass stains out of their shorts.
A second incident, and a show of why he has been nicknamed ‘Yaya,’ came against Wolves. He received the ball in the centre circle and drove at the defence. Slipped the ball through a defender’s legs and drove onto towards goal, before dragging a shot well wide. But although the shot went comfortably astray of the target, he still had the confidence to have a shot.
Another reason I believe Jermaine Anderson will be so impressive this season is that he is now accustomed to the mechanics of first team life. In an interview with the Chairman, the 18 year old admitted that he took a while to adapt to the rituals and environment of the first team. Playing at London Road, the travelling, and playing in front of large crowd were all relatively new to the midfielder, and he admitted that these factors did at times affect his performance. But he is eager to use what he has learnt in the season ahead.
“I’m going to use my experiences from last [season], to play better more consistently”
What also excites me and impresses me about Jermaine is that he has planned out what he wants from a personal point of view next season.
“I need to affect the game more attackingly,” Explained the youngster.
“I’m good at winning the ball back and passing it out, but I think I could add some goals and assists to affect the game”.
Because Jermaine; knows where he went wrong last season, is showing rapid improvement, and knows what he needs to do to further his game, I strongly believe he will impress, not just Posh fans, but English football fans as a whole.
4) JACK BALDWIN
His performance in the second leg of the Play-off Semi Finals against Leyton Orient last season was arguably Peterborough’s individual performance of the season, and every Peterborough United fan, player and coach is now excited about the prospect of one of their most beloved players, Gaby Zakuani, playing alongside this exciting prospect.
What has already impressed me about Jack Baldwin in his short time at the club, after joining from Hartlepool in January, is his character. On his debut away to Crawley, after coming on as a sub in the latter stages of the match, he gave away a game loosing penalty in the dying seconds after handling the ball inside the area.
“I can imagine after my debut that the fans were wondering why on earth the club had signed me,” Admitted the young defender in an interview with the Peterborough Telegraph
“I’d been patient waiting to see some action, but conceding a penalty in the last minute of my first appearance wasn’t what I had in mind.”
But did he let this performance get him down?
Is the Pope Jewish?
Throughout the remaining few games, Jack showed gradual improvement. Always getting better, but still not justifying his hefty transfer fee.
That was until 13th May 2014. A terrible day for The Posh collectively, but a defining day for Jack Baldwin. He had finally justified the £500,000+ transfer fee. He threw himself in front of everything, and timed every tackle to perfection.
“It was a tough time for me, but the management and my team-mates were very good to me. They picked me up quickly and happily by the end of the season I was showing what I was capable of on a more regular basis.”
That is not to say there is nowhere to improve. His strength in the air, and his man to man strength both waver on occasion. This could again be where the signing of Gaby Zakuani comes in. He will be able to pass on his experience and share some tips on how to “kick with your head” as many have dubbed the Congolese defenders heading ability.
Because of his yearning to learn, and his incapability of letting his head drop, Jack Baldwin will only get better, and I 100% believe he will be in the League One team of the season come May.
So there they are, four Peterborough United players I believe will impress the crowd next campaign. But that is not to say they will be the only ones. In fact, I found it a monumental struggle to narrow it down to just four.
Of course players like Britt Assombalonga are more than likely to continue to impress. 31 goals last campaign will be hard to top, but if anyone can beat that, he can. Conor Washington, Britt’s pesty partner, has already won seven penalties for the club since joining at the end of January. This will also only be his third season in the Football League, and his performances last season were already impressing the crowd, and the fans and management will be hoping for 20+ goals this time around. Left back Kgosi Ntlhe has gone from strength to strength… to strength since making his debut against Watford three seasons back. The Chairman and manager both agree that the 20 year old is capable of, not only being the best left back in the league next season, but of scoring ten or more goals.
So, overall, next season should be one of immense improvement and progression from the whole squad, and as Jack Baldwin elequantly put it…
“No one wants to hang around in League One for much longer”.