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
John tweets @johnfernandez1