Goals are Posh.
Peterborough United have a bountiful store. They are the Football League's top scorers and not far off its top conceders, their games the most prolific. On Saturday they reached 75 from 33 matches, beating Exeter City 3-0 at London Road to stay fourth in League One. They have let in 60, second only to Bristol Rovers in the division, and 34 of them at home. Their last 0-0 was at Ipswich on 8 December 2009, 60 matches ago, when they were well on the way to relegation from the Championship.
That was a month after Mark Cooper had succeeded Darren Ferguson as manager. By the end of the season Jim Gannon and Gary Johnson had also tried and failed to stop their drop. They went down with 117 goals against and 15 points from safety after two promotions in two years under Ferguson, then in his first managerial job. He is back now and, according to Barry Fry, director of football, "the place is buzzing and I don't just mean the players. Everyone has a smile on their faces again."
It was not exactly buzzing on Saturday, though smiles were plentiful at the end. The bobbly pitch confounded good intentions and tested patience. Peterborough had the benefit of familiarity; Exeter showed signs of despair. Both stuck to their terrestrial teaching. The home captain, Grant McCann, pulled the most effective strings. With others the passing threads too often unravelled, making for a match almost without content apart from the goals. No cards or trainers were seen. The referee escaped Ferguson's notice.
George Boyd scored the first two. With a wicked deflection the early first fizzed past the sherbet goalkeeper, Ben Hamer, head to toe in lemon. More than an hour passed before slick work between Lee Tomlin and Craig Mackail-Smith ended with the latter leaving Troy Archibald-Henville stuffed as a PG Wodehouse fop and picking out Boyd with his pull-back from the byline. Boyd returned the favour for Mackail-Smith's 20th league goal, the most in the division. Ferguson noted Mackail-Smith's "improved technical skill" to go with his "work ethic and commitment". His skittering run is deceptively quick.
The manager was "really pleased with the performance. We were solid, disciplined and professional, things that have been severely lacking over the season" – as if he were still at Preston, whom he left at the foot of the Championship table, where he also left Peterborough. In his 11 games back goals against have gone down from two a match to two in the last five games. Goals in general are part of Posh playtime. In their first season in the League 50 years ago they got 134, a League record.
In August 2007, when they were in League Two, Darragh MacAnthony, owner and Irish property entrepreneur, promised Championship football in two years. Ferguson delivered but three months into his third full season was gone. Back 14 months on he said: "I don't know if I've lost the trust of the fans but they enjoyed the last spell." The owner reported a "tender moment, a bit of a tear-jerker" on Fergie's return – the mutual dissent of separation melting into mutual admiration – and mistakes were admitted – not a Ferguson trait, his mother's genes perhaps.
Manager and MacAnthony, both in their 30s, remain ambitious. The east stand is due to be rebuilt this summer in hope of cashing in on the visitors of big, not too distant Championship clubs. Attendances have dropped 2,500 with the division. The pitch may be restored sooner. After Carlisle's visit this Saturday they have three weeks to a home match and no wish for a lottery. First they are at Notts County; in September, both under different managers, the clubs twice fell into brawling. At least Ferguson and Paul Ince were once team-mates at Old Trafford.
Last week MacAnthony announced a 'Chairman's Choice' £15,000 season ticket for a padded seat in the directors' box, free food and an invitation to an away game as guest of a club director. This is £4,000 more than Barcelona's top price. As one fan responded, "So I have to pay £15,000 to sit next to Barry Fry?" The Peterborough Today website noted that with £15,000 "you could buy 150 air rifles, the one favoured by Ashley Cole". The best Posh goals are those on the field.
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