The Notts County pre-season programme continues to pick up speed tomorrow with the visit of recently promoted Peterborough United to Meadow Lane.
Both sides took away victories in last season’s encounters, most notably for Notts in their 3-2 win in the “Battle Of London Road”. John Verrall of the Peterborough United Football Blog spoke with me at length ahead of tomorrow night’s encounter.
So the past 12 months, pretty manic obviously? Try and come close to describing the ups and downs!
It’s not just been the past 12 months that have been manic, it’s been the past 48 for us! Three promotions and a relegation in 4 years has provided us with as much entertainment as many teams experience in 10 times this length of time (think Rochdale, for example).
Last season was one which certainly wasn’t good for the heart. Although our attacking prowess was obviously envied by the entire division, our defensive ability left us particularly vulnerable at times. You never quite felt safe as a Posh fan last season and it made us very unpredictable. That said, I think last season was the first time that lower league fans and the press started to take notice of us. Since MacAnthony’s arrival we have always encouraged attacking football but because we were so remarkably free-scoring it really started to get picked up on. I think we began to create ourselves an identity last season for being a very entertaining team to watch which can only be good for the long-term future of the football club.
Any big changes in personnel so far at London Road?
A lot of media hype was focussed on the Mackail-Smith saga. Losing CMS is a major loss for us, naturally, he has been a protagonist in our recent success and epitomised everything good about the club. He had a real desire to succeed, a great work-rate and developed as a football player at Posh after we took the chance on him as a youngster in non-league football, a strategy that we have used to good effect since MacAnthony took over (we are now starting to gamble on taking the best of young Football League talent, having established ourselves as a good League One club).
In truth this summer has felt like a bit of an end of an era. Only George Boyd and Joe Lewis remain from the team that got back-to-back promotions from League One and League Two, with the other two surviving members – Charlie Lee and Chris Whelpdale – joining Gillingham. Although we realise that the club must advanced with promotions it is still a bit disheartening to see players that have given so much for the club move elsewhere.
In terms of bringing players in, as stated earlier, our main focus has been on bringing in youngsters from League One and League Two and trying to develop them. It’s a pretty low risk strategy as youngsters will always have a sell-on value and if they are successful their value will obviously rise. MacAnthony has talked of making Posh a self-sustainable club and this transfer strategy, if successfully implemented, will be a fundamental feature of being able to do this. Unfortunately it is risky. None of our summer signings have got Championship experience; three players have been brought in from Manchester United – Ryan Tunnicliffe, Scott Wootton and Nicky Ajose – but between them they have less than 50 Football League starts. Elsewhere Paul Jones, who spent last season on loan here, and Craig Alcock, signed from Yeovil, have been our only other additions and, again, neither have played in the Championship before.
It has actually been a very frustrating transfer window. Many of our first choice targets have chosen other destinations instead of us and our business so far has been a little underwhelming, considering we are now a Championship club. If anything it has highlighted the enormity of the task that lies ahead of us. MacAnthony still talks of bringing in another 3 or 4 players before the window is up and with a large number still on the transfer list I don’t expect things around London Road to be quiet before August.
And what of your chances in the Championship this coming season? A season of consolidation, or do you think there’s enough in the tank to push on again?
If we can consolidate in the Championship it will have been a very successful season. With our wage budget, average attendance and history we are the smallest club in the division by some considerable distance but the squad we have is a lively one and one with momentum.
Last time we entered the division thinking that we could kick on again and make it three promotions on the bounce but we saw how quickly things can change, and finished bottom. This time we have been far more conservative about our chances but I think Ferguson is quietly confident that we are good enough to stay up. We now know what it takes to do so.
The task for us won’t be easy but nor is it impossible and this season is a massive one for us. If we can stay up we can start to convince people that we have the ability to stay in the division – there seems to be an unfair perception after last time we were in the Championship that we are simply a club destined to “yo-yo” between here and League One – and if we manage to do this attendances should increase and players should be more willing to join, meaning we can build for a more successful future and start to fulfil some of MacAnthony’s ambitious aims.
Who should Notts be most wary of on Wednesday night? Also, any question marks hanging over any of your squad?
George Boyd and Lee Tomlin are our two most dangerous players. Both are supremely technically gifted and have the rare ability to win you a game individually. They are match winners, but they are supplemented nicely be the likes of Tommy Rowe and Grant McCann who go about their jobs more quietly but are equally as important in making the team tick. Mark Little, who seems to be the first choice right back at the minute, is a worry as, although very quick and powerful, he isn’t the strongest defensively. Elsewhere many of the squad are untested, unseen and unproven. It’s a question of how quickly they will adapt to the standard.
Similarly, who’re the key men for Notts do you think? Did any particular players catch your eye last season?
You’ve certainly been busy over the transfer window and Martin Allen seems to be putting together a decent squad. Last season Lee Hughes was, in my opinion, your biggest threat after Ben Davies left in January but I also rate Alan Judge and Jon Harley as players. Craig Westcarr is another player who has the potential to be a match-winner at League One level.
For me your most exciting signing is Jeff Hughes. Hughes spent a brief long-spell at Posh whilst we were in League Two and was particularly impressive but he has gone on to prove himself at League One level now and I think he is a really good signing for you. Hamza Bencherif, who I haven’t seen much of, also has a good scoring record at League Two level – considering he is a defensive midfielder – so he seems a handy addition.
Now, it’d be a mistake not to bring up “The Battle Of London Road” (John’s two post-match reports quickly became the stuff of legend) last season. What’re the first things that come to mind when you think back to that night? And be honest!
These two posts are two of my most viewed to date so maybe I should be controversial more often! In fairness I was only reporting what I saw. I thought your tactics were to stifle the game and you came to London Road to get a draw, something I still stand by. However, in hindsight, I would have probably been better focussing on the fact that we should have just risen above it and played our own game. As it was your tactics were perfect and we got drawn into playing in a similar fashion and you punished us. Simple as that.
Anyway, that’s all forgotten now, I hope, and I wish you the best of luck with this season!