League One Preview: Ferguson’s return to Posh

Darren Ferguson

Darren Ferguson

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for the weekend’s games in League One. Crewe travel to fellow relegation contenders Blackpool, and the Tangerines’ Lancashire neighbours Wigan go to Bradford, in a clash of League One’s in-form teams. Darren Ferguson returns to Peterborough as manager of Doncaster, while at Greenhous Meadow, there is a clash of two newly-promoted clubs as Shrewsbury host Bury.

Blackpool v Crewe

For the first few weeks of the season, it looked as though Blackpool and Crewe would occupy the bottom two places in the League One table until May and sink to relegation. However, both clubs have shown signs of life over the last month or so.

Blackpool were rock-bottom at the end of August but have since picked up 12 points from 8 games, form which, sustained over a season, would see them finish near the play-off places. The Tangerines are starting to look solid, having kept 3 clean sheets in their last 4 league games with Emmerson Boyce impressing at the back.

Manager Neil McDonald has praised the renewed sense of energy and work rate in his side, with September arrival David Norris adding experience in midfield. Brad Potts, on the other hand, has provided an attacking threat and a willingness to drive forward with the ball, which no Blackpool player had the bravery to do last season.

Crewe have found form at a similar time to Blackpool. The Railwaymen have picked up 8 points from their last 7 games, which saw them face promotion contenders Walsall, Burton and Gillingham. They have benefited from the return of Jon Guthrie from injury, as the defender started in the 2-1 victory at Barnsley that kick-started the run, and the 0-0 draw at Burton. Another player returning from injury is 19-year-old James Jones, who impressed when he came on at the Pirelli with just over half an hour to play, and in that time Crewe looked the side most likely to score. This blog predicts that Blackpool will win in a tightly-fought contest.

Bradford v Wigan

It has taken Bradford a while to find form this season but a run of 3 straight October wins would suggest they are starting to do just that.

The Bantams have benefited from the loan signing of Kyel Reid. The left winger left for Preston 15 months ago, but it did not quite work out for him at Deepdale, yet he has hit the ground running since returning to Valley Parade. Reid has not scored yet, but he has shown his pace and has put in some very strong performances for Bradford, making a contribution to the team’s last 3 wins.

Bradford definitely have the credentials to push for the top 6 this season. They have only conceded 1 goal per game since centre-back Reece Burke came into the team and going forward, Devante Cole provides pace and excellent goalscoring ability.

Another team starting to find form are Wigan Athletic, who have scored 23 goals in their last 10 games in all competitions. Yanic Wildschut, who joined on loan from Middlesbrough at the beginning of October, has helped the Latics pick up back-to-back wins, with the forward providing pace and creativity.

Max Power was part of a Tranmere Rovers team that crashed out of the Football League last season, but the midfielder has impressed in his last few games for Wigan. He scored the winner in a 3-2 win for the Latics away to Peterborough, in which his side looked to have thrown away a 2 goal lead when the hosts equalized with 9 minutes to go, but Power scored seconds later.

The other good news for Wigan is that Will Grigg scored a brace in the 5-0 win over Colchester. The Northern Irishman has had his critics since joining the West Lancashire side, and has had to work hard to get his place back in the team, particularly given the arrival of other strikers. However, Grigg is undeniably a good finisher – he proved that at Walsall and MK Dons. The recent progress of both teams suggests this match will be very even and a draw could be on the cards.

Peterborough v Doncaster

When Graham Westley was appointed manager of Peterborough United, many fans feared that the team’s football would be dull. 6 games, 29 shots on target and 14 goals later, those fans appear to have been proved wrong, instead enjoying attacking, swashbuckling, free-flowing football on the deck.

The extent to which Peterborough’s style of play is the choice of Westley, or chairman Darragh MacAnthony, remains to be seen, and we could see a conflict of interests between those two characters in the longer-term scheme of things. At the moment, however, everyone at London Road is happy, no-one more so than striker Lee Angol. The man who scored 25 non-league goals for Boreham Wood last season struggled to get into the team under Dave Robertson, with the ineffective Joe Gormley often picked ahead of the 21-year-old. However, Westley appears to have a more egalitarian selection policy and Angol has benefited from that.

Doncaster could be another team to enjoy a honeymoon period, as the Rovers picked up their first win under the stewardship of Darren Ferguson on Tuesday night. The men from South Yorkshire won 2-1 at Shrewsbury, thanks to a late winner from Crystal Palace loanee Keshi Anderson. Doncaster rode their luck at times at Greenhous Meadow, given the number of chances that their opponents had, but Ferguson will simply be relieved to have won his first game in charge.

Now, the Scotsman returns to Peterborough, where he spent a combined total of 6 years in two spells. His new troops will be desperate to get themselves out of their current predicament and intriguingly, Doncaster not lost at London Road for 25 years. That run could well continue on Saturday.

Shrewsbury v Bury

This fixture was played at a similar stage last season in League Two. On a cold Tuesday night in Shropshire, Shrewsbury Town won 5-0 to establish themselves as serious promotion contenders while Bury subsequently went on a terrible run of form. Ultimately, Shrewsbury stormed to 2nd place in comfortable fashion while Bury needed results elsewhere to go their way for them to secure promotion at Tranmere on the final day.

In many ways, the touch-and-go nature of Bury’s promotion inspired them in the summer transfer market. The club invested big in proven goalscorers such as Leon Clarke and Tom Pope and signed an experienced centre-back in Peter Clarke. The Shakers have definitely benefited from bold transfer movement, but the same cannot be said of Shrewsbury Town. Perhaps the routine way in which they went up convinced chairman Roland Wycherley and manager Micky Mellon that the team was good enough to thrive in League One, and that the club just needed to sign squad players. There is a sense that Shrewsbury have rested on their laurels and given their difficult start to the season, they may yet be punished for their naivety.

At least one player who is impressing for Salop is loanee Sulley Kaikai. The forward made a key impact when he came on at half-time against Colchester and also scored in the team’s 4-2 defeat at Scunthorpe. Alan Pardew, the manager of Kaikai’s parent club Crystal Palace, has publicly praised Kaikai for the way he has responded to going out on loan.

Bury have tended to refrain from signing players on loan, and one of the few loanees they did bring in was Brighton’s Christian Walton. The goalkeeper got off to a very poor start to life at Gigg Lane, making a couple of costly mistakes at Crewe back in August. Walton has been replaced by Robert Lainton, whose introduction coincided almost instantaneously with Bury’s run of 7 straight wins in all competitions. The Shakers should avenge their drubbing at Greenhous Meadow 12 months ago.