Light at the back
By Chris Dowsett
Thursday 08 Mar 2012 22:31:00
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It's been a long and eventful week at London Road and one where all Posh fans are longing for it to end, positively and quietly.

It started with a 1-0 loss away at Crystal Palace, despite an impressive first half showing. It continued with a pathetic 3-0 defeat at home to Millwall and as we edge towards Saturday we are still to bring in reinforcements at the back, while instead Fulham and England Under 21 left back, Matthew Briggs, has been sent back to Craven Cottage a few days early.

That in itself is a surprise as the club has just four defenders who have played professional football, and with one of the quartet struggling with a broken toe there is no cover for any injuries or suspensions may occur, especially in the busiest month of the season. Briggs, in my opinion, has flattered to deceive in his time with Posh in the Championship. Like many others I was full of hope when he signed - a promising young defender, strong as an ox and lightening quick, whom his parent club have a great deal of faith in. Thrown straight in at the earliest opportunity, Briggs made his debut in the awful 3-1 defeat away at Cardiff City. He followed that up with good performances at home to Bristol City and away to Doncaster, yet there was a feeling that he was playing well within himself. On several occasions in those two games he appeared casual and seemed unwilling to exploit the gaps that lay in front of him despite it being well within his capabilities. On Tuesday night, Millwall made him suffer and he was substituted midway through the second half. Darren Ferguson had had enough and it was the last we have seen of Briggs in a blue shirt.

The timing of the decision seems strange, however. His loan was due to end after Saturday's home game to Blackpool anyway, but with Mark Little suffering from poor form and the manager reluctant to throw young Shaun Brisley into the fray, Briggs would have added extra numbers to an already depleted back line. Now with his departure, Posh are left with just four defenders, the aforementioned Little, Craig Alcock, the half fit Gaby Zakuani and the untried Brisley. It remains to be seen whether Ferguson will bring somebody in on Friday but it would be very much against his nature to throw a player in without a day's training. Saturday and Tuesday's games saw Alcock cover in the centre and while the popular defender gave his all, the middle of defence is obviously not his preferred position. With Briggs' exit, it would be nonsensical not to restore Alcock back to his favoured full-back spot.

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The manager in the meantime, appears to be actively on the lookout for potential centre-back replacements. Before the closure of the transfer window, Posh failed in their attempts to sign Crawley Town defender Kyle McFadzean, and as I understand were knocked back again in the efforts to sign the player a fortnight ago. After the Millwall game, Ferguson admitted that he was surprised and annoyed that he was unable to bring in a central defender from Norwich City, despite an apparent clause in the Ryan Bennett transfer that would allow him to do so. Publicly the outbursts paint a story of desperation and severe lack of planning. It is a move that on the face of it, is a very out of character way for Ferguson to react.

"The deal with Ryan Bennett is we would have got one of their (Norwich's) centre-halves," he told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

"He's not even on the bench, the lad, and we still can't get him. So I don't know what's going on there."

If there was a deal in place then it should have been completed by now and yet it seems bizarre that the unnamed player is our only option. Posh were well aware of what might happen in January and Director of Football Barry Fry made it known in the aftermath of the window closing that the club were talking to Swansea City regarding a move for Bennett a month before the transfer deadline, with it just so being that Norwich came in at the last minute. With this in mind, every effort should have been made to bring in a ready made replacement there and then, instead Posh brought in highly-rated by so far untested, Shaun Brisley from Macclesfield Town who Ferguson wants to give a full pre-season to instead of throwing him in at a high pressure point of the campaign. Simultaneously, however, the club were happy to let the loan spells of Josh Thompson and Scott Wooton be terminated, in a decision that in hindsight leaves Posh incredibly short in a position which they have struggled to deal with all season.

At today's pre-match press conference, Ferguson hinted that Brisley would make his debut for Peterborough United if another defender was not brought in. Once again this seems unusual for Fergie who often keeps his cards very close to his chest regarding selection and generally does a lot to improve the confidence of his young players. This, to me, does not seem the right way to prepare a youngster for his first appearance in the Championship; it is almost as if the manager has said 'if we can't get someone better in, we'll play you'. Yet Brisley was a prominent figure in today's pre-match press conference talking to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and the Peterborough Evening Telegraph, suggesting that he will almost certainly feature, if not start on Saturday.

So with events of the last week and indeed over the last few months, Posh find themselves incredibly light at the back with a punishing schedule ahead. Lessons need to be learnt quickly and hard planning needs to be put implemented in a very short space of time. We are nine points clear of the drop but in a dangerously woeful run of form. A lot of hard work has already been done, but the hardest task of all is yet to be completed.


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