Why Peterborough were right to bring Darren Ferguson back

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 29 January 2019, 11:47

Darren Ferguson has been appointed Peterborough United boss for the third time on Saturday evening, after Steve Evans was dismissed.

On the face of things, it seems surprising that the club changed manager with the team in a seemingly healthy position of sixth.

However, there is reason to think the Posh were in something of a false position under Evans – here’s why Darragh MacAnthony made the right call.

Early-season fortune

At the end of August, Peterborough sat top of League One – two points clear of Portsmouth, four clear of the play-off spots and the only team yet to fail to win more than once.

They had a knack of getting the ball forward quickly into good areas with quality, thanks to some excellent deliveries from the likes of Siriki Dembele.

And yet, they still faced scepticism from shot data analysts.

At that stage, their Expected Goals For (xGF) total red 1.61 – the fourth-highest in League One – but that is reduced to 0.9 – the fifth-highest – when looking at open play chances.

Approximately 44% of their goal threat therefore, came from set pieces – a very hefty chunk.

Of course, being efficient from dead ball scenarios is a good thing, but a few of those goals had arisen from either the opposition failing to mark properly, or penalty-box pinball in which the ball fell at the feet of the right man.

Part of that can be attributed to their efficient pressing, dogged determination and clinical finishing, but for those results to have continued, they needed to create a higher volume of chances.

The PE2 outfit allowed on average 1.73 xG against them – the third-most in the division – and 1.01 in open play – the sixth-most.

When opposing teams got on the front foot, we often saw midfielders Mark O’Hara, Alex Woodyard or Jamie Walker drop off to allow the opposition to build attacks.

This nearly cost them in the 1-1 draw against Doncaster and the 3-2 win against Southend, when the ball appeared to roll favourably for them in the defensive third.

The reason they had conceded seven goals – rather than the 12 that xG suggests they arguably could have done – was partly down to the last-ditch work of centre-back Ryan Tafazolli and partly the performances of Aaron Chapman.

The goalkeeper, who won the League Two Golden Glove at Accrington in 2017-18, had made 36 saves at that point, more than any stopper in the division.

Subsequent drop-off

Since that positive but fortuitous opening month, Peterborough are 11th in the form table with a goal difference of -2; hardly the sign of a team that can push for promotion.

Jason Cummings scored six goals in five August league encounters but, amid question marks over his attitude, the Nottingham Forest loanee has since not registered a single goal outside the EFL Trophy.

Matt Godden has only started one game since Boxing Day with only one league goal to his name since his brace in the 2-0 win at Scunthorpe in mid-October – even top scorer Ivan Toney has looked a tad off-colour since his hat-trick in the 4-0 win at Accrington that completed 2018.

At the other end meanwhile, Posh have conceded 34 goals in 24, with no team harbouring even the faintest hopes of promotion shipping more.

Chapman was unable to sustain his August shot-stopping rate; Connor O’Malley, who recently replaced him in the starting line-up, produced a man-of-the-match display in last week’s 0-0 draw with Charlton, but he should not be expected to continue to bail out an unstable defence.

Evans’ off-field conduct

The downside to having Steve Evans and Paul Raynor in charge is that he can be something of an embarrassment at times.

Evans and Raynor consistently harass and almost bully officials, which can give the club a bad name.

They frequently hang players out to dry, including Godden and Marcus Maddison, who has been their most creative player over the previous four seasons; that might explain why the former has dropped in form and the latter has not been as productive this year.

He blatantly lied about resigning from his position at Mansfield to “pursue an opportunity outside the UK”, then got the Peterborough job through coincidence, after “asking Barry Fry for tickets” for their game against Walsall.

If Darragh MacAnthony did not have to pay Mansfield a compensation fee, he could then pay Evans a bigger salary, which highlights the man’s lack of common courtesy and respect for the club that backed him with a massive budget.

Furthermore, the style of football he enforces can be dull to watch and, unlike a typical Tony Pulis side that is at least well-drilled, Evans’ side have been suspect at the back.

While Posh fans could just about cope with the above issues when they were top of the league, it is harder to tolerate now results have dropped.

Peterborough used to be a club admired across the footballing world for their attractive football and ability to develop forwards from non-league; had Evans stayed in charge, very few outsiders would have liked them.

It is easy to say that does not matter if results are going well, but this is something that affects the club’s ability to conduct transfer business and build good relationships with other people within the game.

Ferguson knows the club

Darren Ferguson has enjoyed plenty of success at Peterborough, especially during his first stint in charge, which resulted in back-to-back promotions from League Two to the Championship.

While his second spell is regarded as less successful, he still led the club to League One promotion in 2010-11 as the top scorers in the whole country with 106 goals.

The club were unlucky to go down the following season with 54 points, the highest amount to be accrued by a relegated side in Championship history, then they made the top six the following campaign.

Of course, the football went slightly stale in 2014-15, not helped by the summer sale of Britt Assombalonga to Nottingham Forest, but a mediocre final four months should not disguise the fact that Ferguson has done great things for that football club.

Dembele, Tomlin and Maddison will fire

Under Grant McCann and certain managers before him, Marcus Maddison was always likely to flourish because the team had a lot of the ball in the middle third, allowing him to make those driving runs at defences and, sometimes, unleash the spectacular.

Dembele and Tomlin are similar types of players, who could also benefit from operating in a floor-based system; we saw what magic the latter can do in his previous spell at London Road.

Evans tends to favour 4-4-2 because he likes the clinical aspect of having two strikers on the pitch, but this means that forward thinking midfielders who do not identify as a winger or a front-man, must be shoe-horned out wide.

Ferguson is more likely to adopt a one-striker formation, which could allow Maddison, Tomlin and Dembele more creative freedom.

Whether the 46-year-old is the man for Peterborough beyond this season, with his deal expiring in the summer, remains to be seen.

However, with the team sixth and still having a reasonable chance of making the play-offs, it makes sense for Darragh MacAnthony to appoint a manager who will have methods suited to the squad and more of a rapport with Posh fans.

Managers Departed

Last man down

Phil Parkinson
Phil Parkinson
(Bolton Wanderers)
21st August