‘It was the right time to move on – some people have been here too long.’ Darragh MacAnthony, speaking about Gabby Zakuani after he left the club for Greek side FC Kalloni in a very frank interview on 3rd April.
Fast-forward through a miserable defeat over two-legs to Leyton Orient in the play-off semi-finals to the evening of the 6th of June…
Cue chatter across Twitter and popular forum londonroad.net being dominated by the return of Zakuani. Was Darragh just ‘fishing’ and Gabby acting as the bait, to dangle a Zakuani shaped piece of crill in front of Posh fans? Well two days later, after some more Huddersfield related ‘banter’, Posh fans got this news…
ZAK IS BACK.
Gabby signs a new two-year contract, citing that ‘re-signing for the club is like a homecoming’.
Second time lucky
‘I know the saying is ‘never go back’ but I don’t believe in that.’ The words of Darren Ferguson after his return to the club, just fifteen months after his sacking and the bumpy break-up-holidayish-thing which was Preston North End.
Did he believe it when he said it? Perhaps not. The man needed work. Especially after an awful season at Preston North End, which no doubt lowered his managerial stock considerably. However after Paul Taylor’s second spell and now the return of Zak, it’s got to be said that the man is not afraid of kicking a certain cliché right in the spuds and telling it to get stuffed.
Fergie’s immediate return was obviously lauded as a success. Posh stormed into the Championship after a second half of the season which involved some of the most exciting football seen at London Road – followed by the club staying in the Championship against all odds. But since then, Posh have seen relegation and a stagnant campaign in League One which led to many fans falling/jumping off the much subscribed #InFergieWeTrust wagon.
So with Zak coming back to Posh what does it mean for the sides fortunes next year? And what will it mean for the Posh players who are still at the club?
Where will Zak fit in?
One thing is for sure here. Gabby Zakuani has come back to London Road to be first choice in Darren Ferguson’s back four – alongside Jack Baldwin. The ex-Hartlepool defender impressed in his performances in the play-offs and in games against MK Dons and Coventry; performances which lead some fans to liken him to Ryan Bennett.
What was apparent though, especially during the play-offs, is that Baldwin struggles with extreme physicality. When Baldwin has come up against big strong centre forwards he has failed to hold his own – with Kevin Lisbie, in particular, dominating the slightly built defender. Baldwin is a ball player and a good defender. But with the physical battles which League One will throw-up in mind, Fergie has brought in Zakuani.
The advantages of bringing him back, over the importing of an unknown entity from the lower leagues, is that the coach, the fans and the players will know exactly what to expect from Zak. He’s not the classiest footballer and is a keen purveyor of the type of passes which are sure to make fans and Bobby O, if he is still around, sphincters tighten in earnest regularly throughout the season. But the man heads it and kicks it and gives 100%. Any Posh fan knows that without a doubt. His performances in the season past left a lot to desire – however the same could be said of most of the team’s top earners and most experienced players. On top form Gabby Zakuani will undoubtedly be a class act at League One level.
We saw him a few seasons ago, alongside Bennett in League One, play superbly. With Michael Bostwick he was solid. Alongside Craig Morgan he was a colossus. Posh fans will be hoping on that evidence, another cliché can take a bashing this season.
‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’
At this level Gabby Zakuani unquestionably has the class to make a huge impact for Posh.
What is Michael Bostwick?
With Zakuani’s arrival questions must be asked of the future of players who occupy a similar position. Are they considered to be good enough by Fergie? If not, why are they still at the club?
The question I want to answer though is one which has plagued me about a few Posh players in recent times. Most recently it has been ‘What is Danny Swanson?’ A fleet footed winger? A creative number 10 threading passes through? An agile midfield pivot on the right side of a diamond? Perhaps we’ll learn next season, eh? That’s of course if the much lambasted player signs a new contract.
The question for now is ‘What is Michael Bostwick?’. He arrived from Stevenage off the back of a campaign where he’d played almost solely in central midfield and scored seven goals. He then slotted into Posh’s Championship midfield the way a Cyclops foot would slide into a ballerina’s pair of point shoes. With Shaun Brisley flattering to deceive alongside Zakuani, Bostwick was moved back to centre-back and seemed to find his place there. In midfield he seemed to slow play down and often get left behind, whilst in defence – he wasn’t imperious – but he was certainly more proficient than he was in midfield.
Then after relegation and starting the season in League One at the heart of Posh’s defence, as arguably the club’s best defender Bostwick was moved into midfield. Why? That move followed Posh’s mid-season slide, so Fergie had to change something. Did moving Bostwick forward make much difference? Arguably not! He again looked sluggish and didn’t provide any of the incisive passing the McCann’s, Rowe’s, Coutts’ and even the Paynes’ have provided in the past from central midfield.
But, with Zakuani returning and Bostwick (last season’s most used outfield player, with 40 appearances) most definitely staying around the first team, it seems Posh fans should expect to see Bostwick in the midfield role for which he was expensively acquired.
Of course it is a worry that Fergie still after two seasons, doesn’t know where one of our most experienced and arguably most talented player’s best position is. But hey, Tommy Rowe played in central midfield a lot when he’s quite obviously a left-back… Or a left-winger… Oh god.
The end for Shaun Brisley?
Nathaniel Knight-Percival has left London Road, leaving Brisley, Baldwin and youngster Ricardo Santos as the only specialised central defenders at the club. As form goes it seems obvious that Baldwin will be a first team stalwart for the campaign to come, and as mentioned Gabby will not have been signed to warm the bench. So with the middle of the back-four effectively printed on the team sheet before the season starts in August where does that leave Shaun Brisley?
A bastion of petulance on the pitch – perhaps not in the same way Lee Tomlin was – and regrettably not the footballer he thinks he is, Shaun Brisley looks set for a season of strain upon the gluteus maximus.
He may have been Man of the Match in Posh’s Johnstone Paint Trophy Final – but indisputably his performances during the season have perturbed, frightened and even annoyed many Posh fans. He’s had good games for sure. Nevertheless he lacks the kind of consistency that top teams must demand of their central defenders. The blips in his concentration which have affected Posh over the past two and a half seasons have been plenty and without a move on the horizon (that I’m aware of) the ex-Macclesfield man will, absent of injuries, likely be third choice for the lion’s share of the campaign.
Is there anyone BETTER out there?
When Gabby Zakuani was signed again, Posh had only made one other signing. Jon Taylor from Shrewsbury – a superb young talent who ticks all the boxes of a MacAnthony/Fergie era signing; young, talented, hungry, petit and pacey.
More recently Peterborough United has seen Erhun Aksel Oztumer arrive. Boxes ticked once more.
Zak of course fits the bill far less than say a Baldwin, a Taylor or an Oztumer, but he brings with him bags of experience for the level at which Posh are competing. A quality which when coupled with the class Zakuani brings to the team, cannot be found easily or cheaply.
Baldwin is obviously a phenomenal talent – looking to emulate the feat of Norwich’s Ryan Bennett. Nonetheless he’s a player who will only benefit from the experience and guile which a player like Zakuani brings.
Darragh knows it:
@Gabs50Zakuani & @grantmccann11 experience & leadership will be vital for our young squad next season as we get our mojo back football wise!
And it’s quite obvious that Fergie believes it as well.
The verdict of course will be passed at the end of the season. But, in re-signing Zakuani, Fergie has made a bold statement and nailed his colours to the mast. There will be no mid-season departures without uproar, so Fergie will need to hope that his ‘Plan Z’ will come good. That, or he’ll most likely find Darragh getting ready to go over the side on the #InFergieWeTrust wagon.
Written by John Fernandez, We Are Going Up’s Peterborough United Blogger
Peterborough United’s hopes of a glorious league campaign – a campaign in which we were set to get promoted automatically – was doomed from 24th September 2013, at around four minutes to eight, as Ki Sung-Yeung delivered a shattering blow to Lee Tomlin’s ankle.
That’s not to say there haven’t been other factors which have led to Posh’s mid-season capitulation. But in my opinion it was that ‘fateful night’ which proved to be the catalyst.
Before that game, Tomlin had scored seven goals in 11 League One appearances and his partnership with record-signing Britt Assombalonga was flourishing. Meaning, whilst Posh were broadly scraping through games by the skin of their teeth, Darren Ferguson had a strike force capable of bailing the team out. Even if Posh were looking as defensively porous as a sheet of crêpe paper, whilst also seemingly becoming a team who were incapable of holding onto the ball, for more than five passes.
Lee Tomlin, no matter his faults was by far the best player in League One on his day.
Of course the problem was that day tended to be infrequent, due to his abysmal disciplinary record and even more appalling temper. The injury against Sunderland led to Tomlin being ruled out for around six weeks and after that lay-off, his patience with a club who had blocked his chances of Champions League football at the Nou Camp – so he could slog it out at Stevenage – had finally snapped. A mission of self-destruction, leading to numerous cautions and sending off, made Tomlin’s departure to Middlesbrough on transfer deadline day – whilst being a surprise, in its announcement – something any Posh fan knew was coming sooner or later, a reality.
His departure left a team who were dreadfully bereft of confidence, short of creativity as well.
Arguably the next in the line to fill the role of creator in this Posh team, is Danny Swanson. A player who since arriving at the club, has confused most fans, with his inability to pass, tackle and generally perform in the manner expected for a midfielder who arrived at the club with the tag of ‘the most technically gifted player’ an international manager had worked with. Sure, that manager may have been Scotland’s doomed Craig Levein – a man who attempted to play a 4-6-0 with some of the most technically inept footballers around – but Swanson arrived with high expectations. Expectations which the Scotsman has failed to meet, barring some fleeting glimpses of quality recently (notably Crewe, where he played more as a winger, not as a number 10).
Posh’s lack of creativity was probably best displayed last Tuesday against visiting Bristol City. Two early goals from once Posh target Sam Baldock and an early sending off for City’s Adam El-Abd for a clash with Assombalonga meant whilst Posh were 2-0 down – they had 70 minutes against 10 men. A goal from a corner, scored by centre-back or midfielder (who bloody knows at the moment) Michael Bostwick before half-time meant Posh went in, with voices around London Road chattering about a come-back.
However it was in these 45 minutes where Posh’s tremendous lack of creativity – a lack of almost any willingness to take a risk – was exposed. Posh’s midfield consisted at that point of Grant McCann, Michael Bostwick, on-loan Josh McQuoid and striker Nicky Ajose; a group of players who consistently over that 45 minute period stuttered and stumbled in their attempts to break down an incredibly stubborn Bristol City defence. When it looked like a defence splitting pass was available for any of the four – a pass which would have unleashed Assombalonga or new boy Conor Washington – they faltered and bottled it, playing the safe square ball across the penalty box, which allowed Bristol City to consistently park 10 men behind the ball and scupper Posh’s feeble advances.
I suppose it’s worth mentioning that the midfielders tasked with unlocking the Bristol defence weren’t helped by the incredible lack of movement and guile showed by Assombalonga and Washington. For the second half they seemed glued to the sides of Karleigh Osborne and Brendan Maloney – showing a frightening apprehension at the thought of coming dropping off either of the defenders to make a run towards the ball.
Posh may have peppered Frank Fielding’s goal with shots, but the eventual result was a dismal defeat for Darren Ferguson’s men. The result and performance led to a Tim Sherwood-esque blasting of the Peterborough United playing staff by Fergie Jnr.
Was it justified? Arguably yes. The Posh first half performance was atrocious, and for a team with ambitions of promotions via the play-offs the defending was utterly laughable.
The next three games against (sort-of) rivals MK Dons, Rotherham and Preston will be telling. Often it’s against the best teams in this league where Posh have performed best this season. But after such dismal defeat midweek, this Posh team will need to muster all of their character to get any semblance of a play-off promotion push back on track.
Written by John Fernandez, We Are Going Up’s Peterborough United Blogger
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.
However, I’m going to have two speculative bashes. The first assuming that we hold onto the stars, and that the listed players leave and the second with a worst case scenario of our attacking force leaving and the transfer listed players leaving also. Here goes:
Written by John Fernandez, We Are Going Up’s Peterborough United Blogger
The old adage in football is that you should never go back. No matter how successful you may have been first time around, if things go wrong you supposedly run the risk of tainting the good work you did before, whether as a player or manager.
However there are several examples of managers doing just that and the trend seems to be increasing. In recent years there have been several teams in the Football League who have re-appointed a former manager and have replicated or even bettered the achievements from their first spell as boss.
Take Gary Johnson as the most recent example. Between 2001 and 2005 he was manager of Yeovil Town, taking the Somerset club into the Football League for the first time by winning the Conferernce title. Two seasons later he won them the League Two title and promotion into League One for the first time in the club’s history.
After seeing his stock rise due to his work at Huish Park, Johnson left Yeovil to become manager of Bristol City, taking them into the Championship and almost to the Premier League, losing the 2008 play-off final to Hull City. In March 2010 he left Ashton Gate and from there had spells at Peterborough United and Northampton Town, the latter seeing him face a relegation battle at the bottom end of League Two.
Johnson and Northampton parted company in November 2011, by which point Yeovil, still in League One, were struggling at the wrong end of the table under boss Terry Skiverton, the club’s former captain and fans’ favourite. In January 2012, Yeovil decided to bring Johnson back to Huish Park for a second spell as manager with Skiverton, who was Johnson’s captain at the club, becoming his assistant.
The Glovers avoided relegation that season with two games left to spare, but the following campaign would prove to be far more successful. They got off to their best ever start to a league season, taking 10 points from the first four games of the season and, aided by the goals of Paddy Madden, remained in contention for the play-offs for most of the year.
Yeovil secured fourth spot, their highest ever league finish and qualified for the play-offs. They beat Sheffield United 2-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals before seeing off Brentford 2-1 in the final at Wembley on a memorable day for everyone involved in the club. The promotion was Johnson’s third with the club in 10 years, taking them from non-league up to the Championship in two spells as boss.
Johnson has picked up where he left off at Huish Park and next season the club will be playing in English football’s second tier for the very first time.
Bournemouth are another club who have tasted success after bringing back a former manager. In 2009 the club appointed 32-year-old Eddie Howe as boss, with the Cherries second from bottom of League Two – seven points from safety – having started the 2008-09 season on minus 17 points after a spell in administration.
Howe was a fans’ favourite at Dean Court, making 313 appearances in two spells with Bournemouth as a defender, before being forced to retire from playing because of a knee problem in 2007.
He kept the club in the Football League in 2009 and at the start of the 2009–10 season, Howe won eight out of the first nine games, a club record. Despite the club being under a transfer embargo for the whole campaign, the Bournemouth’s good form continued and they secured promotion to League One in Howe’s first full season in charge, finishing second in the table behind Notts County.
Howe’s achievements brought him to the attention of clubs higher up the league pyramid and in January 2011 he became the new manager of Championship side Burnley. However in two years at Turf Moor, he guided the Lancashire club to two mid-table finishes and struggled to get them challenging for a serious promotion push to the Premier League.
In November 2012 Bournemouth sacked boss Paul Groves after a poor start to the season and shocked many by re-appointing Howe as their manager. To drop down a level and join the Cherries showed the affinity that Howe felt towards his hometown club and, now back on the South Coast, Howe’s impact was immediate.
Bournemouth failed to lose any of Howe’s first 15 league games back in charge and the club surged into promotion contention. After a slight blip in form through February and March, Howe’s men won eight games in a row to secure promotion to the Championship for only the second time in their history, following in the footsteps of Harry Redknapp’s side, who won promotion to the Second Division in 1987. The Cherries ended the season with a 0-0 draw at Tranmere Rovers, which saw them finish second in League One.
Howe, like Johnson at Yeovil, has picked up from where he left off with Bournemouth and he will take the club into the second tier for the first time since 1990. His achievements at the club have established him as one of this country’s brightest young managerial talents.
Peterborough United manager Darren Ferguson has also bucked the ‘never go back’ trend. The son of legendary Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson began his managerial career when he was appointed player-manager at London Road at the age of 34 in January 2007.
He guided the club to a 10th place finish in League Two that year and in the 2007-08 campaign, his first full season as a manager, he took Peterborough to second place and automatic promotion to League One. With the momentum of that promotion behind them, Ferguson’s side made the step up to the higher level comfortably and finished runners-up, securing an immediate promotion to the second tier, the first time that they would play at that level since 1994.
Despite the great success he had brought to Posh, Ferguson left the club by mutual consent in November 2009 with them at the foot of the Championship. Two months later he was back in management with Preston North End, keeping the club in the Championship at the end of his first half-season in charge. However, a poor start to the following campaign saw Ferguson sacked by the club at the end of December 2010.
During Ferguson’s year in charge of Preston, former club Peterborough had struggled to replace him in the dugout. His successor Mark Cooper lasted 13 games, Jim Gannon a matter of months and Gary Johnson half of the 2010-11 season after a disagreement with club chairman Darragh MacAnthony. In January 2011 Ferguson returned to London Road for a second stint as boss 14 months after originally departing, signing a four-and-a-half year contract.
The club finished fourth in League One and qualified for the play-offs. In the semi-finals they overcame MK Dons 4-3 on aggregate before beating Huddersfield Town 3-0 in the final to secure an immediate return to the Championship, which was Ferguson’s third promotion with the club in four years.
Posh remained a Championship side for two seasons until they were relegated on the final day of the 2012-13 campaign, although they will feel confident of bouncing back next year with Ferguson at the helm. The decision to bring him back as manager in 2011 proved to be a successful one and it seems that both he and the club bring out the best in each other.
Johnson, Howe and Ferguson are the three most recent examples of managers making a success of their second spell in charge and it seems that several Football League clubs are hoping to follow this trend having re-appointed their former managers. Tranmere boss Ronnie Moore is currently in his second spell with the club, John Ward is back at Bristol Rovers for a second time, while Brian Laws is in charge of Scunthorpe United for the third time, after taking the club from League Two to the Championship in two spells between 1997 and 2006.
In the Championship, Leicester City and Nottingham Forest have also turned to a former manager in the hope of securing success.
Nigel Pearson guided Leicester out of League One as Champions in 2009 before almost leading them to back-to-back promotions the following year. The club finished an impressive fifth in their first season back in the Championship before the club lost to Cardiff City on penalties in the 2010 play-off semi-finals.
Pearson left to join Hull City that summer to be replaced by Paolo Sousa. Leicester were then taken over by wealthy owners from Thailand, who invested heavily in the playing squad and sacked Sousa after a poor start to the season, replacing him with former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson in the hope of securing promotion to the Premier League.
However after an inconsistent start to the 2011-12 season, Eriksson left Leicester by mutual consent and the club’s owners turned to Pearson in the hope that he could repeat his earlier success with the club, albeit with a more expensively-assembled squad. Leicester finish ninth that season but the following year, Pearson took them to sixth place and the play-offs. In a dramatic end to their semi-final second leg against Watford, Leicester were one penalty kick away from reaching the final, but Anthony Knockaert’s 95th minute effort was saved and Watford went up the other end, scoring through Troy Deeney to progress.
Leicester’s East Midlands neighbours Nottingham Forest have also turned to a former manager in quest for glory, in the form of Billy Davies. The Scot saved the club from relegation to League One in 2009, then led them to back-to-back play-off semi-finals in 2010 and 2011 before being sacked.
Forest appointed Steve McClaren as his successor, but the former England boss struggled at the City Ground, lasting just three months in charge. Steve Cotterill kept the club in the Championship before they were taken over by the Al Hasawi family from Kuwait. They sacked Cotterill, replaced him with his former assistant Sean O’Driscoll then sacked him on Boxing Day last year despite the club being a point outside the play-offs. His replacement Alex McLeish lasted 44 days after winning just one out of seven league games.
With the club attracting all the wrong headlines for hiring and firing managers, the Al Hasawi family appeased large sections of the Forest support by bringing back Billy Davies as manager for a second stint. He immediately won six of his first seven games as the Reds challenged for a play-off spot but a run of inconsistent form ultimately cost them as they finished eighth. Next season, Davies will be expected to have Forest challenging for promotion in his first full campaign back at the City Ground, just as he did the last time he was manager.
Despite some observers claiming that going back to former clubs is not a wise move, there are several managers in the Football League who have proven that this is not always the case. The likes of Gary Johnson, Eddie Howe and Darren Ferguson have shown that some managers are simply the right fit for certain clubs.
In the modern era, managers are under pressure to deliver success otherwise they could find themselves out of a job quickly. However as the examples mentioned here have shown, if a manager is brought back they can settle in quickly and rediscover the form which made them successful in the first place. Fans will be more patient with a manager they know has delivered for them in the past, which in turn can work to the club’s advantage.
In these boom-or-bust times, maybe clubs have realised that familiarity breeds success.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger
In the 89th minute of the final game of the season, the well laid plans of Darren Ferguson, Barry Fry and Darragh MacAnthony came crashing down, as a free-kick that should never have been was converted by Palace skipper, Mile Jedniak.
The entire season turned on this single incident with Posh moving from safety to the final relegation spot. For those who hold Posh so close to their hearts it was the bitterest pill to swallow, yet another poor refereeing decision was to condemn their team to League One football next season. Despair and disbelief flooded the Twittersphere as those fans poured out their hearts and souls online.
True, Posh had once again given them the ride of their lives, they had watched their team from the lows of August and September when they had failed to collect a point in their first seven games, to the relative high of seeing them come within two minutes of pulling off what would truly have been the greatest escape of them all; in the process they had seen their team score more goals than promoted Hull City. Once again, following the Posh was not for the faint hearted, perhaps next season their London Road ground should be posted with warning signs urging those of a nervous disposition or with a heart condition to turn away.
A torrid end to the 2011-2012 season secured the club’s Championship status but saw Posh finish the season in abject form and with key members of the squad, including that season’s captain, Grant McCann, on the precipice of leaving London Road. However, Ferguson Jnr. recruited well in the summer, in all the key positions; ensuring that the club had a core of players that he and the supporters believed were capable of securing Championship status once again.
All was not as well as it seemed, as Posh were found tactically wanting in the first seven games of the season and left cut adrift at the foot of the table. Hope seemed in pretty low reserves even after Posh picked up their first win of the season, away at high flying Hull City, following a tactical switch and a tremendous counter-attacking performance from Emile Sinclair and George Boyd.
Even with the team wallowing in last place Ferguson Jnr. ensured fans that ‘he knew what to do’ and was ‘confident of survival’, and while few truly believed, there was always hope. The abject form of the initial period of the season was left behind and results slowly picked up. There was no one reason for this upturn but one key factor was the return of injured left wing-back Tommy Rowe, whose Bale-esque displays won points on their own at various stages of the season.
The arrival of Dwight Gayle midway through November added goals whilst the ‘Peterborough Four’ incident blew over seeing Barnett, Sinclair and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing at least temporarily leaves the club. The former non-league striker’s form beggared belief at times after his arrival, and the confirmation of his transfer from Dagenham and Redbridge was hugely symbolic in the quest for survival. The diminutive hitman’s flourishing partnership with Lee Tomlin was a breath of fresh air, with Gayle’s perfect hat-trick against former Premier League winners, Blackburn Rovers, providing a memorable moment for all in a blue shirt.
The tail end of the season was when Posh really found their momentum though, and while their 172 game record of no matches without a nil-nil draw was broken, a 12 game unbeaten run gave hope where many had long since stopped believing. Entering the final stretch the atrocious start to the season was a distant though painful memory and Posh had Championship survival within their own grasp, even if the survival permutations required a super computer to calculate.
Posh went into a decisive game with Sheffield Wednesday knowing that a win would ensure that come the last day of the season they would be the masters of their own destiny . An ugly game of hoofball from the visitors meant Posh’s passing play was often disrupted, and it took a moment of brilliance from free-kick specialist and man for the big occasion, Grant McCann to see Posh emerge with the three points and the all important ability to forge their own destiny come 4th May.
The day itself is now history, another appalling refereeing gaff condemned Posh to filling the last relegation berth and with a draw then good enough to secure the survival of both Huddersfield and Barnsley, the Yorkshire compatriots then stood motionless in anticipation of their final whistle, the sound which served as the death knell to Posh’s two year stint in the Championship. As Posh sunk back into League One Darren Ferguson’s post-match interview did little to allay fears of a Posh firesale and while the London Road faithful may be hopeful of holding onto the key assets at the club, the likes of Gayle, Tomlin, Rowe and Bostwick seem unlikely to be lining up in a Posh shirt next season come August 4th.
Relegation alone is enough to give rise to a fan’s despair, but the stark reality is that this youthful Posh team could have kicked on next season and perhaps moved away from the yo-yo status it had hitherto occupied. Yet now, the team who performed so admirably and fought so bravely in the second half of the season looks destined to be torn apart.
Having sat in the main stand at London Road with those who have supported the Posh for many decades I can only imagine the pain that they are feeling, my own Posh journey began just short of two decades ago when, aged one, my dad took me to see Posh play at home to Wolves, we lost 1-0, to a 90th minute Cyrille Regis goal in a season that also saw us relegated from the second tier of English football. If that experience tells us anything then as with the last few years we must see it as a chance to rebuild, to regroup and to challenge for the League One title. No matter which players we hold onto, DMAC, Ferguson and Fry have the best interests of the club at heart and the expected departures in the summer, whilst heart-breaking, are a necessary evil.
2013-14 is the year for players like Newell, Ntlhe, Jonson Clarke-Harris, Swanson and perhaps Shaquille McDonald to flourish and show why they are at the club. This season may ultimately have ended in failure, but to dwell on that would be a mistake, for it was glorious failure, and whilst not quite on the scale of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the club enters 2013-14 with one of the best lines of form of any team in any division. There is plenty to be optimistic about, this is just a setback and as Posh have shown over the years the club can recover and reclaim its place in the Championship.
See you at Stevenage.
Written by John Fernandez, We Are Going Up’s Peterborough United Blogger
Every football fan has that moment where you get a text, usually from your Dad, informing you of the extraordinary news unfolding at your club at that very moment. You can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing. Most of the time you’re at work or at school and it tends to be just before lunchtime. Lunch suddenly becomes a bit bland and tasteless as your mind is racing, questioning everything that’s just happened.
As a Posh fan, I have had two very distinct moments like that. The first was on Tuesday 18th September 2006. Posh were entertaining Everton in a Carling Cup first round clash that evening. I’d finished getting changed after a particularly rough Rugby lesson in P.E. and had just claimed my horrifically retro Siemens mobile phone from the ‘valuables box’. Looking back at said valuables box, I can’t imagine it was a particularly secure place to leave anything of any monetary value but that’s neither here nor there.
After the phone eventually switched back on I had a text and instantly went to read it, expecting it to be from the girl in my Science class that I evidently took a liking too. Unfortunately it wasn’t and instead it was my Dad with the words “Ring me”. My 12 year old self was more disappointed about the lack of text from aforementioned girl rather than the potential gravity of the situation my Dad wanted to inform me about.
Eventually I rang him, expecting him to tell me that I left the freezer door open again or something along those lines. Instead he told me that Posh had been taken over by a young Irish businessman called Darragh MacAnthony. I knew this was a watershed moment in Posh’s history, we were about to get an awful lot of money injected into our faltering club, the times were a-changing and I distinctly remember London Road bathed in the late evening sunshine before kick-off.
Everton beat us 2-1.
That’s beside the point though. The other moment occurred this week, yesterday to be precise – on the 21st February just after 5 in the evening. I was getting ready to meet my girlfriend for dinner (not the same girl who I used to sit next to in Year 8 Science for the record). Technology has come an awful long way since 2006. Siemens thankfully no longer make mobile phones and we can all now enjoy the immediateness of news thanks to Twitter and Facebook (in between the pictures of people you don’t particularly like doing things where you’d question the necessity of a camera.)
With my girlfriend being a Hull City fan, I recently discovered that I am a follower of Hull city’s official Twitter page. I can only imagine this was down to some playful flirting during the early days of our relationship or some really terrible hijack of my Twitter while I wasn’t looking. Either way, I am regularly updated of the dates and venues of Andy Dawson’s testimonial events that are being put on throughout the East Yorkshire and Humber area. A casual browse just before I set off meant I stumbled across a tweet announcing the unveiling of an “emergency loan signing” at Hull City with an image attached. I questioned whether sitting second in the table really constituted an emergency but none the less, I expanded the tweet to be greeted with a familiar face.
Sat staring at me from the computer screen was none other than George Boyd. My feelings can be best described in going back to how I felt after the girl in my Year 8 Science class ultimately rejected my advances to take things to the next level (start holding hands) – numb, sick and a little light headed. No longer would I see the fancy footwork and flowing locks at London Road. A model professional and a fantastic footballer, Posh have been well and truly blessed to employ him for the past six years.
The fantastic thing about George Boyd is that he is not the kind of player who will constantly take on one player too many. There is a sort of timing to his game, knowing exactly when to release the ball and equally knowing how long to keep hold of it for. It’s a pleasure to watch and it’s why he has had such loyal support from each and every Posh fan. All he wants is to play football and to play it bloody well at that.
His departure marks the end of an era at Peterborough United – an era that started all those years ago on Tuesday 18th September 2006 on a warm September evening. Three names have graced Posh history during that era and have helped develop the club and push it to new highs, Aaron McLean, Craig Mackail-Smith and George Boyd. What they have done for Peterborough United Football Club has been absolutely fantastic but now, as Posh find themselves sitting second from bottom, desperate for survival, the last of the old guard leaving could be a blessing in disguise.
Many Posh fans, including myself, have clung on to the days of the appropriately dubbed ‘Holy Trinity’ which saw two successive promotions and more goals than anyone can remember. Perhaps at Posh we are still under the impression that one of the holy trinity will ride in and save the day but it is never good to live in the past for too long. The club have laid some fantastically strong foundations, but it’s no good simply admiring the sturdy handiwork.
There is a real crop of young, potential talent at the club. Kgosi Ntlhe looked the part in the early half of this season and the young South African had earned himself a call up to the national side and looked set to play at least a small part in the African Cup of Nations until he succumbed to an ankle injury in early November against Sheffield Wednesday. And the man to step in Boyd’s boots? Tommy Rowe. Since promotion to the Championship second time around under Ferguson, Rowe has quietly been plugging away, contributing a lot to the build-up of a number of Posh goals this season, even netting one himself against Millwall this week.
George Boyd will always be remembered as a loyal servant to the Posh. Just as he was at Stevenage before and as I am sure he will be to Hull City. It has been an absolute honour and privilege to watch him over the years and I no doubt echo every Posh fan when I say all the best.
Note: some of you may be wondering what happened to the young lady in my Year 8 Science class after she rejected a long, happy life with me. I checked her Facebook page and it tells me she is an avid supporter of the legalisation of marijuana and is a fan of many marijuana related fanpages. I can’t help feeling she’s thinking what could have been?
Written by Liam Smith, We Are Going Up’s Peterborough United Blogger
As a Peterborough fan, a season in the Championship five years ago would have been beyond a dream. To have even uttered such a statement would have had you sneered and jeered at by your own brethren on the Glebe.
In 2013 though, it’s a reality. Posh, under the stewardship of Darren Ferguson, have not only reached England’s second tier, but stayed there for more than one season. That status though, is under threat, rumours that Fergie Jnr. has lost the dressing room have surfaced and signs are bleak.
A winless run of seven games at the start of the season coupled with incidents off the field which have seen players shipped out on loan to relegation rivals, means that Posh are by no means guaranteed Championship status for 2013-14.
Peterborough United currently sit rock bottom at the foot of the Championship table, and although they have a game in hand, positivity has evaporated at London Road. With managers in the division being hacked and changed more frequently than a new-borns nappy, many of the Posh faithful cry for blood. ‘Fergie out!’ is the taunt from the terraces.
What good will does that do though? What purpose would be served by getting rid of, arguably, the most successful manager to have graced London Road since the club was founded in 1934? Brought in at the inauguration of the MacAnthony era, Ferguson has overseen triple promotions, relegation and the sale of over seven millions pounds worth of non-league booty (players). The man embodies exactly what Darragh MacAnthony envisioned when he bought the club.
The MacAnthony/Ferguson axis has focussed on lower-league exuberance, hunger and the harnessing of raw potential, which Posh fans have seen through not just the Holy Trinity of Maclean, Mackail-Smith and Boyd but also in the acquisition of exciting young players like Shaun Brisley, Tommy Rowe and Dwight Gayle. This focus on unproven talent combined with free-flowing attacking football has left long-term Posh fans gasping for breath at weekly 5-4 thrill fests. It is now 150 matches since Posh fans have witnessed a goal-less encounter!
Sacking Ferguson can only upset the apple cart and see a team already struggling to cope at this level descend into free-fall. Sure, if Posh go down this season, it would be disappointing, particularly as only last season the club made a huge step in signing its first one million pound player, and whilst that hasn’t worked out as all had hoped it still marked a monumental point in the history of the club. Ask any Posh fan, whether they expected us to ever shell out that kind of cash and you’ll be met again with a booming chorus of no’s.
If any Peterborough fans are Fergie doubters, then ask yourself this. If Fergie Jnr. was to be sacked which manager could come in and spearhead a charge for survival better than the Scot? Anyone thinking London Road could attract a Curbishley, a Howe or even a Di Canio is sadly mistaken. Posh should stick to their guns. Posh fans should cast their minds back to 2010-11 where they went through four managers in one season. Disaster. Nothing more.
If anyone can grab survival from the jaws of defeat, it’ll be that man Ferguson, and with 17 games to go, one hopes that a little bit of that old Ferguson magic returns to the club.
Written by John Fernandez, We Are Going Up’s Peterborough United Blogger
It’s been a while hasn’t it? So much so, little old Posh find themselves in the Championship for a second successive season. Perhaps the reason for the lack of Posh updates from me is because it was such a ruddy exciting time last season that it was all just too much to adequately put into words. But to be fair, it was mainly for the fact these days I find myself living in Yorkshire, far from the safety of my beloved London Road.
Being a Posh fan is hard at the best of times, particularly after the start we had to this season. Try, however, being a lone Posh fan in the heart of Sheffield. It’s a very lonely existence let me tell you. It’s not like being a Manchester United fan for example where you can watch the likes of Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young on a (somewhat illegal) Iranian website streaming all their games. At least those fans have some form of connection with their team.
Posh rarely find themselves in front of the Sky cameras. Even when we are, do you genuinely think anyone else is willing to trudge down to the pub on an early Saturday evening in the middle of November to see Posh take on the mighty Blackburn Rovers? The answer is no. So much of my time watching Posh is done on my own, in a pub, while drinking vast quantities of alcohol. In later life, a doctor will probably tell me this is where the drink problem began.
But enough about football fuelled alcoholism, what about the season Posh have had so far. To be truthful, it’s nothing surprising. We’re the smallest club in the league and we’ve struggled for the vast majority of the season so far. But then something happened, Lee Tomlin started playing well. Some of you probably know young Tomlin as ‘the fat one’ or ‘the one that told a police officer to get a proper job and offered to buy him a BMW’ or perhaps more simply a rather rude word beginning with ‘C’ and, to be honest, that’s how he’s known universally amongst Posh fans.
I really am not sure what clicked inside Lee Tomlin’s head but, after so many seasons of distinct averageness and scrapes with the law, he realised he had a bit of talent. He could not have picked a better time to decide all this either. Posh are lumbering at the foot of the table in the fine company of Barnsley, Bristol City and Sheffield Wednesday. Ahead of the infamous festive period, a decent run was exactly what was needed and to bolster a lacklustre team, Ferguson brought in 22 year old Dwight Gayle from Dagenham & Redbridge.
Gayle had previously been on loan at Conference North side Bishops Stortford and managed to score 42 goals in a single season. Ferguson has always been about plucking youngsters from the lower divisions and if it worked with Aaron McLean and Craig Mackail-Smith surely it could work again? Gayle was partnered up front with the newly reformed Lee Tomlin and the two clicked exactly when Posh needed them most – during that dreaded festive period.
12 points out of 15 meant Posh suddenly found themselves outside the relegation zone. What’s more, Posh weren’t simply grinding out wins in an ugly fashion; they were beating teams in a classy manner. On the 1st December, Posh lost 4-1 to a rather bland Blackpool side but just two short weeks later, Posh rather convincingly had beaten Cardiff City at home. Let’s not forget that at the time Cardiff City had the best home record in Europe. Wins against Bolton, Wolves and Barnsley wrapped up a rather jolly festive period (the only loss being against Bristol City) and gives a rejuvenated Posh side a fighting chance to beat the drop.
What should be expected in 2013? Survival now seems like a reachable target but it relies on Dwight Gayle and Lee Tomlin staying fit. They have been the difference in recent weeks and their absence in today’s FA Cup game against Norwich really showed. Nobody else stepped up to the mark and finishing in the final third was non-existent. It’s worrying to think that if both these players are out for a considerable period, then Posh’s survival hopes could be flushed away just like that.
Written by Liam Smith, We Are Going Up’s Peterborough United Blogger
As we are a few days into 2012, there’s no better time to reflect on the previous year in the Football League. 2011 served up some memorable moments, with unexpected promotions, great relegation escapes, controversies and goals aplenty.
A resurgent East Anglian outfit upset the odds to claim their second promotion in two seasons and top flight football returned to South Wales for the first time in nearly 30 years. A Premier League legend turned up in Wiltshire to begin his managerial career while two former England managers were hired and fired in the East Midlands.
Plenty more took place in 2011 and this week Toppo’s Top Ten takes a look back at some of the most memorable events of the past twelve months in the Football League.
10: Stevenage are promoted again
Stevenage were promoted to the Football League for the first time in their history in 2010 and made a decent start to life in League Two, hovering around mid-table for the first six months of the campaign. In January the club were sat in 18th place but went on a remarkable run of form in February and March, winning nine out of eleven games to propel themselves into the play-off spots. They may have come to the attention of many for their ‘timewasting’ tactics and the hard work put in by the team on the training field, but Graham Westley’s side were on the up.
They finished sixth and defeated Accrington Stanley 3-0 in the play-off semi-finals, to set up a meeting with Torquay United at Old Trafford in the final. Stevenage had the better of the first-half and made their dominance count four minutes from the break as John Mousinho rifled in a shot from the edge of the area after a fine run from midfield. The goal would prove to be the decider and Stevenage saw out the match to secure a famous double promotion into League One, emulating Exeter’s back-to-back promotions from the Conference into the third tier in 2008 and 2009.
9: Crystal Palace shock Manchester United
Having struggled at the wrong end of the Championship table early in 2011, Crystal Palace made a much better start to the 2011-12 season under manager Dougie Freedman, challenging for the play-offs and having a good run in the Carling Cup.
In the quarter-finals on November 30 they travelled to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, with the home side considered big favourites, despite Sir Alex Ferguson fielding some fringe players. After a dull first half, the game sparked into life when Palace midfielder Darren Ambrose thumped a brilliant 35-yard strike into the top corner at the Stretford End. United equalised thanks to Federico Macheda’s penalty but they could not find another goal, so the match went into extra-time.
Eight minutes into extra-time Palace won a free-kick which Ambrose swung into the penalty area, Glenn Murray escaped the attentions of his marker and nodded the ball into the back of Ben Amos’ net to restore Palace’s lead. The Londoners came under pressure in the closing stages of the game but defended resolutely to seal a last-four spot for the first time in ten years.
8: That Clarke-Di Canio bust-up
Former Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham United striker Paolo Di Canio was appointed manager of Swindon Town in May, not long after the club’s relegation into League Two had been confirmed. The Robins got off to an inconsistent start under the Italian, who was known for his short temper and hot-headed moments as a player. At the end of August we saw this side of Di Canio return as he had a furious bust-up with striker Leon Clarke on the touchline at the County Ground after losing to Southampton in the Carling Cup.
Clarke had an argument with one of the club’s fitness coaches before manager Di Canio stepped in. He asked the striker to leave the field but Clarke refused, Di Canio tugged at his shirt which seemed to wind the striker up more. Eventually the pair headed down the tunnel where the confrontation continued and became more heated with the two having to be pulled apart. Clarke had only joined Swindon from QPR 11 days later, and he was soon heading for the exit – farmed out to Chesterfield on loan.
7: Darren Ferguson returns to Peterborough
In January 2011, fourteen months after leaving the club by mutual consent, Darren Ferguson strolled back into London Road to become Peterborough United boss for a second time. He had just been sacked by Preston North End, who were bottom of the Championship – which was where Ferguson took Peterborough from League Two thanks to successive promotions in 2008 and 2009 during his first stint as manager.
Posh were in the play-off mix when he arrived and he eventually guided them into the end-of-season shootout for a place in the Championship. After overcoming MK Dons in the semi-finals they would face Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford on May 29, where Ferguson began his playing career and where his father Sir Alex, is a club legend. Huddersfield were considered favourites having just been pipped to automatic promotion by Southampton but the game was a tight affair until the late stages.
In the 78th minute Peterborough broke the deadlock when Tommy Rowe headed Grant McCann’s free-kick into the back of the net, before striker Craig Mackail-Smith’s 35th goal of a memorable season made it 2-0. Posh sealed the victory five minutes from the end thanks to a great free-kick from McCann to seal promotion back to the Championship and a remarkable comeback for manager Ferguson.
6: Huddersfield’s unbeaten run
In 2011 Huddersfield Town came close to securing a place in the Championship, being beaten to an automatic promotion spot in League One to Southampton, before losing the play-off final to Peterborough United. Lee Clark’s side were tipped to go one better in the 2011-12 season and pushed for the play-offs again from the start as they carried on a long unbeaten run from the previous season.
After losing in the league to Southampton on December 28th 2010, Huddersfield picked up 24 wins and 18 draws from their next 42 league games to equal Nottingham Forest’s Football League unbeaten streak of 42 matches. In their next game at home to Notts County on the 19th of November, Town would make history as they ran out 2-1 winners thanks to a brace from Jordan Rhodes and make it 43 unbeaten.
In this time they had lost matches in the FA Cup, Carling Cup and most notably, in the League One play-offs, so some felt the record should have been ended much sooner, however it was an impressive feat from the Terriers which came to an end with a 2-0 loss away to leaders Charlton Athletic in their next game.
5: Brighton move to their new home
Fourteen long years after leaving the Goldstone Ground and playing at the Withdean Stadium since 1999, Brighton and Hove Albion finally moved to a new stadium of their own, the impressive Falmer Stadium (named the AMEX Stadium due to sponsorship) which was in construction since 2008.
The move coincided with Gus Poyet’s side winning the League One title last season to be promoted to the Championship and the feel good factor was back amongst the Seagulls and their supporters. Their first competitive match at their new ground was a home league fixture against Doncaster Rovers and it would be a memorable afternoon for the home side. The teams took to the field amid a great atmosphere and the sell-out 20.219 crowd waving flags, but it was Doncaster who threatened to spoil Brighton’s afternoon as they took the lead through Billy Sharp.
Brighton tried to find a goal and finally equalised on 83 minutes as Will Buckley, a summer signing from Watford, hit a shot from the egde of the penalty area after Doncaster had failed to clear a free-kick. Injuries meant there were eight minutes of injury time and in the final minute, Buckley converted an excellent pass from Craig Noone to complete a brilliant turnaround and send the home fans into wild celebration.
4: Fans Reunited
Plymouth Argyle began the season in financial turmoil and had just suffered back-to-back relegations from the Championship into League Two. The club were £13 million in debt and placed in Administration. On the pitch the club’s fortunes continued to slide as the Pilgrims sat bottom of the whole Football League after nine games and manager Peter Reid was sacked.
A ‘fans reunited’ day was organised for Plymouth’s home match against Macclesfield Town on September 24th, led by Brighton and Hove Albion fans, hundreds of well-wishers pledged to descend on Home Park in their own teams’ shirts to support Plymouth’s plight. Albion themselves went through a similar situation in 1997 when they were evicted from the Goldstone Ground, docked points and nearly dropped out of the Football League.
Over 6,000 people attended Plymouth’s match with Macclesfield, with fans from clubs all over the country making the long trip South to be at the game. Argyle’s players responded and ran out 2-0 winners to pick up their first win of a difficult season. Two weeks later a second ‘fans reunited’ day was staged on an International weekend to encourage even more fans to support Plymouth, and the Home Park attendance swelled to over 8,000 as the Pilgrims drew 2-2 with Accrington Stanley.
3: Norwich City reach the Premier League
Norwich City’s rise into the Premier League is remarkable. Defeated 7-1 at Carrow Road by Paul Lambert’s Colchester United on the first day of the League One season in 2009, the club dismissed manager Bryan Gunn and appointed Lambert as the new boss. The Scot galvanised the team as they regained their form and went on to win the League One title later that season, immediately bouncing back into the Championship.
Norwich carried on their winning momentum into the second tier and the club were in and around the play-off spots for most of the season. Thanks to the goals of striker Grant Holt the Canaries were very much in the promotion shake-up and moved into the top two, maintaining consistent form in the process – not losing back-to-back matches all season.
On May 2nd the club went into their penultimate match of the campaign away at Portsmouth needing a win to guarantee promotion. The game was a scrappy affair with neither side fashioning many chances, however in the 50th minute they did find the net. David Fox curled a free-kick into the penalty area and Simeon Jackson met it with a close-range header to give the Canaries a priceless lead.
Norwich held on to secure the win and with it a second consecutive promotion into the Premier League as the players ran towards the travelling supporters to celebrate a remarkable triumph. The club became the first since Manchester City in 2000 to win back-to-back promotions into the top flight.
2: Brendan Rodgers takes Swansea City up
Having narrowly missed out on a Championship play-off place the season before, Swansea City appointed former Watford and Reading boss Brendan Rodgers as manager in the wake of Paolo Sousa’s departure for Leicester City. The Swans developed a reputation for playing attractive, attacking football and this would continue under Rodgers. He moved to bring Scott Sinclair to South Wales for £500,000 from former club Chelsea before the season began and he would be one of the club’s key players throughout the campaign.
After a slow start, Swansea picked up form and were soon in the play-off places, moving into the top two on occasion before falling away to allow Norwich to finish second. They eventually finished third to secure a play-off spot and face Nottingham Forest in the semi-finals. After a goalless first leg at the City Ground, Swansea won the return at the Liberty Stadium 3-1 to reach the Wembley final, where they would face Reading for a place in the Premier League.
On May 30 the two sets of fans descended on Wembley to witness what would be a pulsating encounter. Swansea took control of the first half as two goals from Scott Sinclair and a strike from Stephen Dobbie saw the Swans go into the half-time break 3-0 ahead. Reading looked out of it but they pulled a goal back when Joe Allen deflected a header into his own net four minutes after the restart, and eight minutes later the Royals got another when Matt Mills headed home from a corner to put Brian McDermott’s side right back in the contest.
Swansea had to see out Reading pressure as they pressed for an equaliser, being denied by the post and some last-ditch defending from Garry Monk, before they were awarded a penalty with ten minutes to go when Fabio Borini was brought down in the Reading penalty area. Sinclair stepped up and converted the spot-kick to complete his hat-trick and send Swansea on their way to promotion. At the final whistle they returned to the top flight after a 28 year absence and became the first Welsh team to reach the Premier League – quite a feat considering the club won promotion from League Two six years before.
1: Barnet’s great escape
On the final day of the 2010-11 League Two season Barnet and Lincoln City were locked in a battle to remain in the Football League. Lincoln were two points ahead of the Londoners with a home game against Aldershot, while Barnet faced Port Vale at Underhill. Barnet began the season with Mark Stimson as manager but he left with the club bottom at New Year and they turned to former boss Paul Fairclough as caretaker manager.
However after 15 points from a possible 48 the club were staring the Conference in the face and Fairclough left, with another former manager, Martin Allen returning as Bees’ manager on an eight game deal. He gave the side the lift they needed as they won two and drew one of his first three matches in charge, before he shocked everyone by agreeing to join managerless Notts County, just 19 days after his return to Underhill.
Giuliano Grazioli, a Barnet legend and assistant manager to Allen was placed in charge until the end of the season. After a win, a draw and two defeats from his first four games as boss, Barnet went into the final day of the season needing a victory whilst hoping Lincoln lost. Three minutes into the second half, Izale McLeod scored from the penalty spot to give Barnet the lead, but it would be meaningless unless Lincoln conceded against Aldershot.
Midway through the second-half at Sincil Bank Aldershot themselves won and converted a penalty to take the lead, with the news gradually filtering through at Underhill amid chants of “We are staying up!” from the Bees’ supporters. Fifteen minutes later Aldershot doubled their lead and the Barnet fans began cheering once more. Aldershot made it 3-0 with five minutes left, while at Underhill there were six minutes of injury time which only added to the tension, but Barnet held on to survive in the Football League, climb up to 22nd place in the table and condemn Lincoln to non-league football.
At the final whistle the Bees fans poured onto the pitch to celebrate with the players and coaching staff. Barnet had saved themselves by the skin of their teeth.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and blogger
Tweet Steven at @steven_toplis with your suggestions for Toppo’s Top Tens
In football it is often said that players and managers should not return to their former clubs, for fear of an earlier successful spell being tainted if things went wrong. Bringing back a previously successful manager is usually something which appeases supporters – a romantic appointment if you will – which sometimes has been the wrong one. On the other hand, such a move has proven to be a masterstroke on occasion, with a manager being as good or better during their second stint in charge.
On Tuesday Nigel Pearson was appointed Leicester City manager for the second time, rejoining the club he led to the League One title in 2009 and the Championship play-off semi-finals a year later. He left the Foxes soon after to join Hull while his former club sacked replacement Paulo Sousa after a few games in charge, appointed former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson and were taken over by wealthy Thai owners. With Eriksson shown the door three weeks ago Pearson makes a surprise return to the King Power Stadium – but will it be a good move?
Here are ten managers in the Football League who proved the phrase ‘never go back’ isn’t always right….
10: Andy Hessenthaler, Gillingham
Having spent four years playing for Gillingham, helping them into Division One in the process, 34-year-old midfielder Andy Hessenthaler became the club’s player-manager in 2000 when Peter Taylor – who steered the Gills to promotion from Division Two that summer – left for Leicester City.
In his first season in the new role Hessenthaler remained a key figure in the team as the club recorded their highest ever league finish of twelfth in the second tier, on one of the division’s smallest budgets. The following season Gillingham again enjoyed a comfortable mid-table position but in the 2003-04 campaign, they avoided relegation on goal difference. After the team continued to struggle in the newly-renamed Championship the following season, club owner Paul Scally relieved Hessenthaler of his managerial duties to bring in John Gorman, although the Kent club were to be relegated come the end of the season.
Hessenthaler, still regarded as a club legend, carried on playing with Gillingham but spent time on loan with Hull City before moving to Barnet in 2006 and winding down his career as a player, managing and playing for Dover Athletic between 2007 and 2010. In May that year, Hessenthaler stepped down and the following day returned to The Priestfield Stadium for a second shot as Gillingham boss. The club had just been relegated to League Two and Hessenthaler took the club to the brink of the play-offs last season as they finished eighth and they look set to challenge for the top seven again this time around, currently sitting ninth in the table.
9: Dario Gradi, Crewe Alexandra
To so many football fans, the name Dario Gradi is synonymous with Crewe Alexandra, the 70-year-old recently stepping down as manager having been in the Gresty Road hotseat for 24 years across two spells. His time with the club began in 1983 as he was appointed manager just after Fourth Division Alex had survived being voted out of the Football League. Throughout his time as manager, Gradi nutured some of the country’s best young players and future internationals in the form of David Platt, Danny Murphy, Geoff Thomas and Neil Lennon amongst many others – all of whom were sold onto higher division sides for good sums of money.
In 1989 Crewe were promoted into the Third Division and despite relegation two seasons later, Gradi took the club back up in 1994. Three years after that the club reached the second tier for the first time in their history via a play-off final win against Brentford, remaining in Division One for five seasons and finishing in their highest ever league position of eleventh, before being relegated on goal difference in 2002.
Gradi led the Alex to an immediate automatic promotion back into Division One the following season, throughout the time continuing to bring through talented youngsters such as Dean Ashton, and encouraging the team to play the attractive, attacking football he preferred.
Crewe were relegated from the Championship in 2007 and the following year, he relinquished managerial duties to Steve Holland whilst remaining at the club as Technical Director. When Holland left his post in 2008, Gradi stepped in as caretaker manager whilst a replacement was found. In 2009 he would turn out to be that replacement when appointed boss for the second time and despite the club dropping down into League Two, Gradi remained manager until 2011, returning to his position as Director of Football. After such long service to Crewe Alexandra, Gradi rightly goes down as one of the most influential figures in the club’s history and a great ambassador to English football.
8: Peter Jackson, Huddersfield Town
Having played for Huddersfield Town as a right winger, making over 100 appearances between 1990 and 1994, Peter Jackson cut his teeth in management when he returned to the club in 1997, replacing Brian Horton. In his first two seasons at the Galpharm Stadium he helped the club avoid relegation and steered them to a tenth place finish in Division One, before being controversially sacked by owner Barry Rubery in 1999, making way for the appointment of Steve Bruce.
Having spent four years away from football, Jackson was approached to become Town manager once more in 2003 and accepted, joining the club as they sat in the league’s basement division and came out of administration. In the 2003-04 season, Jackson took a young squad to fourth and the play-offs, where they beat Mansfield Town on penalties in the Millennium Stadium final to secure promotion into League One in his first season back in charge.
In 2004-05 the club finished ninth, falling a few places short of the play-offs but the season after they finished fourth, although a spot in the Championship was to elude them as they lost to Barnsley in the semi-finals 3-2 on aggregate. After some poor form in the 2006-07 campaign, Jackson had his contract cancelled by mutual consent but will always remain a fans’ favourite at the Galpharm.
7: Dave Bassett, Wimbledon
The story of Dave Bassett’s departure and return to Wimbledon in the mid-1980′s is an interesting one. He became manager of the club in January 1981 when they were ninth in the Fourth Division and after a great run of form in the second half of the season, took the Dons up to the Third. They struggled to adapt to the higher level and were relegated on goal difference, finishing 21st but Bassett guided the club straight back up in 1983 as Champions with 98 points.
The following season Wimbledon emerged as promotion contenders and completed back-to-back promotions with a 2nd place spot and Second Division football to look forward to the following campaign. However in June 1984 Bassett left Plough Lane to take up the vacant manager’s role at fellow London side Crystal Palace – but stayed there for just 72 hours. He changed his mind, refused to sign a contract at Selhurst Park and returned to Wimbledon, citing “unfinished business” as one of the factors.
The Dons finished a respectable 12th in their first season as a Second Division club and in 1985-86, they were among the frontrunners for promotion. On the final day of the season, a 1-1 draw away to Bradford City saw Wimbledon finish third and gain promotion into the top-flight for the first time in their history, a remarkable achievement considering they were a non-league side just nine years before. The Dons mixed it with some of the country’s biggest sides in their debut season in Division One, finishing sixth before Bassett left to join Watford in June 1987, bringing to an end an incredibly successful second spell as Wimbledon boss.
6: Steve Coppell, Crystal Palace
For a time, Steve Coppell seemed to turn up at Crystal Palace every few years. The former Manchester United winger had four spells with the Eagles as manager and Director of Football. Aged 28 years and 10 months old, Coppell became Palace boss in June 1984 having retired from playing due to injury the year before. With some astute lower league signings and budget buys of unwanted First Division players, Coppell took Palace up through the Second Division play-offs in 1989. They stayed in the top flight for four years, finishing third in 1991, reaching the FA Cup final in 1990 and becoming founder members of the Premier League in 1992. However they were relegated in May 1993 and Coppell resigned.
In 1995 he went back to Selhurst Park as Director of Football and under the management of Dave Bassett, the club lost the 1996 Division One play-off final to Leicester City. In October that year Coppell left to join Manchester City as manager, famously quitting after just six games and 33 days in the job, citing pressure in the role as the reason for his departure.
He soon returned to Palace as Chief Scout but after Dave Bassett’s resignation in February 1997, Coppell became the club’s manager for a second time. Within months he got the club promoted back into the Premier League as David Hopkin’s last minute strike against Sheffield United secured a 1-0 victory in the play-off final. Despite signing big name players in Tomas Brolin and Attilo Lombardo, Palace struggled and he resigned in 1998, becoming the club’s Director of Football once more following a takeover by Eagles fan Mark Goldberg.
Incredibly Coppell returned as Palace manager for a third time in January 1999 following Terry Venables’ resignation and saved the club from relegation to Division Two, steering the side to 14th and 15th placed finishes before being replaced by Alan Smith in 2000.
5: Brian Laws, Scunthorpe United
Brian Laws has enjoyed arguably the most successful period of his managerial career to date with Scunthorpe United. The former Sheffield Wednesday and Burnley boss became manager at Glanford Park in 1997 and immediately turned the Division Three club into promotion contenders. In 1999 they secured promotion, beating Leyton Orient 1-0 at Wembley thanks to Alex Calvo-Garcia’s winner.
The club remained in Division Two for one season before being relegated in 2000. In 2004, with the team struggling and new owners in charge, Laws was placed on gardening leave but three weeks later previous chairman Steve Wharton returned to the role and by mid-April, Laws was back at the helm. His second coming began well as he steered the club away from the threat of relegation and during the summer, brought in some experienced faces to complement the youthful nature of the side.
The following season Scunthorpe got off to a flyer, sitting top of League Two going into the festive period and they remained in the promotion spots, eventually finishing second behind Yeovil Town to secure promotion into League One. Laws’ side fared much better in the third tier, finishing 12th in the 2005-06 season, but it would be the following year which would prove a memorable one for Iron fans.
The club got off to a great start and sat top of League Two when Laws was offered the manager’s job at Sheffield Wednesday in November 2006. He accepted and handed over the reins to Scunthorpe physio Nigel Adkins, who carried on the job started by Laws, taking the club up as League One Champions in 2007 to play second tier football for the first time in 43 years.
4: Jimmy Sirrel, Notts County
Jimmy Sirrel is regarded as the best manager in Notts County history, the Scot guiding the club through one of their most successful periods in decades. Having began his managerial career at Brentford, Sirrel joined fellow Fourth Division side County in November 1969 – a club which had been rooted near the bottom of the league’s basement division for the previous few years.
The team became increasingly difficult to beat and in his first season in charge, Sirrel’s side finished seventh, a good campaign after seasons of financial hardship and struggles on the pitch. The following season the Magpies raced to the Fourth Division championship, not tasting defeat until September and they ended the campaign unbeaten at Meadow Lane. The year after Notts went close to a second successive promotion, missing out by three points but in 1972-1973 the Magpies embarked on an impressive run of form in the second half of the season, losing just twice to secure promotion to the Second Division.
Having taken the club up from the Fourth Division to the Second in four years, Sirrel was already a Notts legend but left in 1975 to take over at First Division strugglers Sheffield United. He could not save them from relegation and with the club struggling in the second tier in 1977 he left Bramall Lane. In October he returned to Notts County and saved them from relegation to Division Three that season. The next two years saw the club finish 6th and 17th but in the 1980-81 season they finished runners-up to secure promotion into the top flight, the first time Notts had been there since 1926.
Sirrel had completed the job he began in 1969, taking Notts County from the Fourth Division to the First in twelve seasons. The club finished in mid-table two years running before Sirrel became General Manager in 1983. However the club were relegated under new manager Larry Lloyd and again in 1985 as Sirrel was back in the hotseat, remaining there for two years before retiring – bringing to an end a remarkable 17 year association with the club.
3: Tony Pulis, Stoke City
Tony Pulis’ career as Stoke City manager began in 2002, having had spells in charge with Gillingham, Bournemouth and Bristol City. The club were struggling in Division One and looked as if they could be relegated just a year after promotion, but Pulis saved them on the final day of the season and guided them to mid-table safety the following campaign. However tensions rose between Pulis and the club’s chairman Gunnar Gislason and eventual disagreements with the Icelandic owners saw him dismissed in June 2005.
He took over at Championship outfit Plymouth Argyle and took the struggling side to mid-table safety before being approached by new Stoke chairman Peter Coates to take charge of the club again following the sacking of Jan Boskamp. Plymouth turned down any initial approach but in June 2006 Pulis accepted the offer and was back at the Britannia Stadium. In his first season back, Pulis’ side were on the fringe of the play-offs but finished eighth.
Club captain Danny Higginbotham was sold ahead of the 2007-08 season but Pulis took advantage of the loan market, bringing in the likes of Manchester United youngster Ryan Shawcross. On the last day of the season, Stoke were second as the final round of fixtures kicked off and a 0-0 home draw against Leicester City was enough to secure a place in the Premier League, the first time the club would compete in the top flight in 23 years. Pulis has continued to build the side gradually, taking The Potters to mid-table finishes and the 2011 FA Cup Final – where defeat to Champions League qualifiers Manchester City meant Stoke would be playing Europa League football in 2011-12.
2: Darren Ferguson, Peterborough United
The son of Sir Alex Ferguson, Darren Ferguson began his managerial career in 2007 at the age of 35, taking over at Peterborough United as player-manager. In his first season at London Road the club finished 10th in League Two and in his first full season of management he took Posh to second in the league and promotion, being named Manager of the Month in March 2008.
In his second full season as manager, Ferguson’s side adapted well to the higher level and finished second in League Two to secure back-to-back automatic promotions into the Championship. This success led to Ferguson being touted as one of the best young managers in the country and he was linked with a host of managerial vacancies in the summer of 2009, however he stayed at London Road as the club embarked on their first spell in the second tier in 15 years.
However the club struggled and Ferguson left with them sat bottom of the Championship table in January 2010, joining fellow Championship side Preston North End. The club finished 17th in Ferguson’s first campaign as boss, but the following year struggled and he was sacked in December 2010 with North End bottom of the table.
In January 2011 Ferguson was back at Peterborough United, patching up his relationship with chairman Darragh MacAnthony to become manager at London Road for the second time. The club had been relegated after Ferguson left and were in the race for the League One play-offs when he rejoined. After some good form and high-scoring victories over Oldham and Sheffield Wednesday, Posh finished fourth before beating MK Dons in the play-off semi-finals. In the final at Old Trafford they defeated Huddersfield Town 3-0 to regain their spot in the Championship and for Ferguson, secure his third promotion with the club in five years.
Peterborough ended the season as the highest goalscorers, netting 106 times and that goalscoring form has seen Posh fare better in the Championship second time around, sitting 11th with a 7-1 thrashing of Ipswich Town and a thrilling 4-3 home victory over Cardiff City the highlights.
1: Graham Taylor, Watford
Graham Taylor is a Watford club legend, having led the Hornets to unprecedented levels of success as manager and spent time as Chairman at Vicarage Road. At the age of 28 he became one of the youngest managers in the league when he was appointed Lincoln City boss in 1972 and in 1977, a year after leading the Imps to the Fourth Division championship, Taylor joined Watford as manager, brought in by the club’s new owner Elton John.
In his first season at the club, Taylor led Watford to promotion as Fourth Division champions, losing just five games and winning the league by eleven points. In the Third Division, he guided the club to a second consecutive promotion in 1978-79, the club missing out on the title by one point. In Division Two the Hornets found life tougher, finishing 18th in 1980 but improving to a 9th placed finish the year later. In 1981-82 Taylor and the club did even better, finishing runners up to secure promotion into the top flight for the first time in their history.
Under Taylor Watford had gone from the Fourth Division to the First in just five years and finished a remarkable second in their debut First Division season, before reaching the FA Cup Final in 1984. Taylor left Vicarage Road in 1987 to take over at Aston Villa, before a largely unsuccessful stint as England manager and a year spent as boss of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In that time Watford had fallen into the third tier of the league and in Feburary 1996 Elton John, having just brought the club for a second time, appointed Taylor as General Manager. Just over a year later he appointed himself as manager, succeeding Kenny Jackett who was demoted to a coaching role at the club. In 1998 he guided the Hornets to the Division Two title at the first attempt and the following season they finished 6th, earning a place in the play-offs. After beating Birmingham City on penalties in the semi-finals, Watford beat Bolton Wanderers 2-0 at Wembley to reach the Premier League for the first time since its inception.
By taking the club back into the top flight via back-to-back promotions, Taylor brought back memories of the club’s rapid rise through the leagues under him less than twenty years before. Watford were relegated from the Premier League, but Taylor stayed on as manager for another season, finishing ninth in Division One in 2001 and becoming only the third man at the time to take charge of 1,000 English league games before retiring. He came out of retirement a year later to become manager at Aston Villa again but left in 2003. In 2009 Taylor returned to Watford for a third time, being appointed to the board as a non-executive director, before stepping in as interim chairman later in the year.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and blogger
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