Monsieur Salut writes: it is known to many of my friends, and to observant readers of Salut! Sunderland, that I had a brief boyhood fascination with Peterborough United, who brought a breath of fresh air to league football after excelling in the Southern League. Does that mean I have mixed feelings about Easter Monday? Not a chance. It was, as I said, brief. Sunderland are my team and, Shildon apart since I grew up there and my dad was club secretary, I don’t really approve of the idea of second teams.
James Bloodworth*, who writes for the Posh fan site www.londonroad.net (see clickable link in the footnote – this one will also be fixed in due course) is too young to remember those glorious days for his club except via handed-down family memories. He feels the game is up for Peterborough and that they will finish seventh, a far cry from where they stood when he first answered our questions before the first game (a 2-2 draw). As for us, he reckons that if we win on Monday, we may well go up second to Luton. Stand by for some cracking answers and a Steve Evans anecdote we really shouldn’t find amusing …
James Bloodworthy: in short, our luck ran out. The perfect start to the season wasn’t really that perfect; we won five games in a row, but it was unconventional.
In general, we’d blow teams away for the first 20 minutes or so, and then sit back and invite pressure. That’s all well and good if you have a solid defence, but Peterborough United don’t. We were riding our luck, as shown by our lowly positions in the expected goals table.
The wheels came off a few weeks after the reverse of this fixture, as a flurry of late goals across the winter months frequently turned three points into one, or one into none. The style of football was woeful, and the fans were slowly turning on manager Steve Evans. The low point was certainly a 2-0 defeat at the hands of then-bottom Scunthorpe United on New Year’s Day, a match where we failed to muster a shot on target. Our chairman was so angry with our display that day that he left on 70 minutes. And three weeks later after a further tumble down the table, Evans also left.
Steve Evans was the sort of manager no opposing fan could warm to but seemed effective. Was it right to seek change?
Whether Evans’s dismissal was the right thing to do will be a topic of conversation for years to come.
In my opinion though, it was the only option. Squad morale was at an all time low due to Evans’s abrasive management style, the results weren’t good and the performances were worse.
Relationships were breaking down left, right and centre: Evans fell out with the local media, fans, the board and the players.
It might be a tall tale, but my favourite story around Evans’s departure was that upon hearing of his dismissal, he went in to say his goodbyes. When he revealed his sacking to his former squad, an unnamed player allegedly stood up to the 57-year-old Scot and smacked him in the face, shouting ‘that’s for being a bully’.
How has Darren Ferguson been on his return to Posh?
Odd. I was happy to give our most successful boss a third chance, but the “new manager bounce” we enjoyed led to a below par seven points from nine games. Surprisingly, Ferguson’s short term contract was extended, and since this new deal began, we’ve won all three of our games and conceded no goals (at the time of writing). This season’s play off dream isn’t dead, but it’s on life support. Nevertheless, the signs are good for the 19-20 season.
Which players in your squad have maintained their early season zest and where have you looked weaker?
Really, we’ve looked weaker across the entire team. It’s either feast or famine with Ivan Toney and Matt Godden, out only senior strikers, and it feels like an age since either have had their red hot scoring streaks. Young winger Siriki Dembele looked excellent at the start of the season, but he’s still finding his feet after injury a few months ago.
Really, the only improvement has come from Geordie (*BOOOOOOO*) Marcus Maddison. The winger has been the star man for his five years at Posh, but his time at the club looked to be coming to an end in the summer when he was banished from training ahead of a move to The Championship…that never came. It took him months to get back to his excellent self, but his six goals and six assists in 2019 have made him (statistically) the hottest property in the league.
Based on their games against you and any other sightings, which two League One teams have struck you as the best this season?
Barnsley were comfortably the best team to visit us this season. They beat us 4-0 just after our draw at the Stadium of Light, and could have had twice that if they wanted. I thought The Tykes would have force themselves into the top two fight, and sadly I’ve been proven right. After that, Portsmouth were very good, and it’s no shock that they’re challenging. It must be said, whilst Luton are flying high, they looked nothing special as we beat them 3-2 in August!
Has Sunderland´s season gone more or less as you expected or have we also looked disappointing (you thought the pair of us would finish first and second!)?
I felt that your stature would have been the extra 10 per cent needed to dominate the league; so in a way, yes, you have. But on the other hand, given the problematic seasons you’ve had over the years, you’re doing just fine – I’d certainly swap with you.
You do some refereeing. Any thoughts on how the standard of officiating has been in your own games and have you, like my brother (who has been a rugby ref and assessor), ever been guilty of chanting “you don’t know what you’re doing” or similar at football?
I do sympathise with referees at League One a bit. Whilst they’re working nine-five jobs and then going out in front of thousands at the weekend, there is a definite glass ceiling in terms of how well they will perform. That being said, some have been very, very bad. I don’t tend to shout abuse at referees if they call a 50:50 incorrectly; however, when there is a horrendous example of game management or understanding of the laws of the game.
The angriest I’ve been at a Posh match at an official directly involved me… kind of. About four seasons ago in early September, it was hot enough for a drinks break.
One of our players- Jermaine Anderson – was having an excellent match, and after having a quick sip of water, chucked a bottle back to our fitness coach on the touchline. The issue was, Anderson had misjudged this distance, and the bottle landed in the row in front of me (I got a bit damp). Incredibly, the fourth official couldn’t see that this was an accident, and insisted Anderson had “assaulted” his own fans, and had him sent off. I was among 5,000 seething Posh fans that day.
Hand on heart where will we both finish?
The top of the league looks set to have one of the most intriguing finales ever. It’s almost impossible to call, but I reckon if you win on Easter Monday, you’ll finish second. Otherwise, I’ll say third, but with a win at Wembley to avenge The Checkatrade Trophy defeat.
We’re nailed on for seventh in my book.
And your longer term prognosis for Posh (and Sunderland if that interests you enough!)
I think that if Ferguson isn’t put under silly pressure next year, we’ll make the playoffs. We’ve already started building for next season with targets identified that fit out style better than the 24 players Evans signed.
When Sunderland go up, I think you’ll enjoy a few years of stability and sensibility (certainty over the ownership and manager seems to be a bit of a rarity for you in the recent past) before a big push back to the Premier League. Judging from our experience of him, I can’t see how Jack Baldwin could be a part of a long term, successful plan, but good luck to the lad.
Will you be there on Easter Monday? How will it go?
I will be attending, I always look out for a few fixtures at the start of the season, and ‘the’ big club relegated is always one of them… of course, this year it was you.
In terms of predication, I have no idea when it comes to Posh I think there’ll be goals, so 2-2.
* James Bloodworth on himself: I’ve had a season ticket at Posh for the past 12 years, and I write fairly regularly for Posh’s largest discussion site, www.londonroad.net. I’m just about to take my finals in my maths degree, before starting teacher training next year.
Interview: Colin Randall