Middlesbrough will return to action with a lengthy trip to Peterborough United. The Posh have had a torrid time this season, making Chris Wilder's men clear favourites to take home all three points.
Middlesbrough put in an inspired performance against Chelsea last time out. However, the difference in quality between the Teessiders and the world champions was clear on the scoreline. Nonetheless, it was the conclusion to a wain of performances over the recent weeks as the club's intense fixture list had shown up in momentary lapses of concentration and slight drops in intensity during games. Middlesbrough needed a break from proceedings, and the international break offered this opportunity. Unfortunately, a few individuals would not get the luxury of a two-week break having impressed their respective national head coaches.
Caolan Boyd-Munce received his first call up to the full international level. Still, he would not feature for Ian Baraclough's side having to settle for an unused substitute role against Luxembourg. A Middlesbrough representative would enter the field of play, though. Paddy McNair, who recovered from a niggle sustained against Chelsea, played all 90 minutes in a 1-0 defeat to Hungary. Meanwhile, Andraz Sporar returned to action for Slovenia, playing 68 minutes in a 1-1 draw with Croatia but settling for being benched against Qatar. Another loanee, Folarin Balogun, also featured during the international break. The Arsenal youngster managed to net three goals in two outings for the England U21 side provoking Mikel Arteta to discuss the player, his loan and his potential future at the Gunners. It is also important to note that Djed Spence, currently a Middlesbrough player garnering interest from a plethora of notable names during his loan at Nottingham Forest, was also called up to the three lions U21's where he made his debut. These players have now returned to training following their expeditions with their international sides.
Middlesbrough will feel relatively confident about their upcoming fixture. Peterborough United have struggled to keep up with the Championship challenge this season, and, in 23rd place with just a handful of games to go, they are looking like favourites to return to the Championship. However, this is a wild, unpredictable league wherein anything can happen, and, despite their struggles this season, the Posh did just that last time out, beating fellow playoff hopefuls QPR. Boro may go in favourites, but Peterborough will punish them if they do not perform at their best.
Owner: Darragh MacAnthony and Kelgary Sports and Entertainment
The ownership may be held in a coalition 50/50 split, but Darragh MacAnthony, as the Chairman, deals with the club's daily running, so he is the predominant focus in this section of the article.
Darragh MacAnthony was born into the world of business. His father, Austin MacAnthony, owned the famous Maxwell Plum's nightclub. Darragh MacAnthony concluded an extensive education at a business college in London. However, he would leave after three months to start his own company MRI (MacAnthony Realty International), specialising in selling houses overseas to British and Irish clientele. His childhood, shared between Ireland and Spain, placed him at an advantage in the holiday home space. However, he would face controversy though as some of his clients complained about paying for, and then not receiving, furniture packages alongside their holiday homes.
Furthermore, in 2011, a former employee was awarded £157,767.31 for non-payment. However, he would rack up a considerable fortune despite these issues. His wealth was estimated at £150m when he got involved with Peterborough. He also published an autobiography in 2012: From Hobby to Obsession.
In September 2006, MacAnthony became the Chairman at Peterborough United, making him the youngest Chairman of an EFL side at the time. At just 30 years old, he got his feet under the table and then pressed on to take over the club in 2007. MacAnthony agreed to a £1 fee to take over the club as long as he took over the club's substantial debts. Upon taking over the Posh, MacAnthony announced that the side would earn a double promotion bringing the club from League Two to the Championship. His promise was delivered, temporarily, with the side instantaneously returning to League One.
Nonetheless, he has set out his intentions with the Posh. He intends to bring them up the footballing ladder to the Premier League. A road to glory in real life. The question is whether the club can sustain a push to that level.
MacAnthony has been intelligent in the transfer market too. While he may have made a net loss in the market of £1.88m, he used every penny astutely across three players. Shrewsbury's talented midfielder, Oliver Norburn, joined the Posh for £3.69m alongside young talent Joel Randell (£1.05m) and Cameroon international Jeandro Fuchs (£864k) and other notable performers for nominal fees. He balanced these incomings with Siriki Dembélé's transfer to Premier League promotion hopefuls Bournemouth (£2.38m) and Mo Eisa's return to the League One promotion challenge with MK Dons (£1.35m). However, the club further augmented the squad by dipping into the free agent and loanee pool. Jack Marriot, a proven attacking talent in the Championship, jumped from struggling Derby County to join Peterborough United following his contract.
In contrast, Hayden Coulson joined the side on loan from Middlesbrough. Aside from these more prominent transfers, Peterborough has been intelligent when scouting from the lower and semi-professional divisions helping to find hidden gems that have played a role this season. Their astute acquisitions in the window have allowed the club to remain relatively financially stable despite their relegation looming.
Nonetheless, as with most clubs, Peterborough was notably hit by the Covid period, with some voicing their concerns about the club's long-term future under such a predicament. However, MacAnthony highlighted his partner's financial backing and stated that such issues should not be a concern for the club despite the difficulties caused by Covid. Yet, he recognised that the club would most likely have to face a few more seasons in the red before they could start making a profit. A prediction mirrored in the club's latest financial reports that side a £1,019,565 loss in the 2021 financial year.
Additionally, MacAnthony's podcast, The Hard Truth, is a great listen for those who want to know more about what happens behind the scenes at EFL standard football clubs.
MacAnthony will be undoubtedly disappointed that they are going only to have another temporary stay in the Championship. However, in Grant McCann, he may have found the manager to take them forward in the long run, starting with a speedy return to the Championship should they get relegated.
Manager: Grant McCann
The club's drastically poor form so far this season saw MacAnthony opt for a change in management. Darren Ferguson, the son of managerial legend Sir Alex Ferguson, took over the club in 2019 after impressing MacAnthony so much that he believed that he would go far in the sport. His time at the club started well, finishing his first season in the playoffs but failing to capitalise during the knockout stages. Then, in his first whole season at the club, Ferguson led Peterborough to promotion. However, he struggled to keep up with the Championship following the promotion, with the side only staving off the bottom spot due to Derby County's points deduction. The side's atrocious defensive record and marginally better offensive record meant that Ferguson was treading water at the club. In February, Peterborough would seek a change in his head coach. However, it is essential to note that his poor record in the Championship does not necessarily reflect a limited managerial potential for Ferguson. Instead, as with many managers, his time at the club may have just run its course.
The Posh turned to a familiar face to fill the void. Grant McCann had previously featured for Peterborough United during his playing career. During the latter stages of his career, he settled into the area, spending five years in Cambridgeshire and making more appearances for the Posh than any other side in his career. He was also a creative force for Peterborough, directly contributing to a goal every 175 minutes. Then his career at Peterborough was warped when the club sacked David Robertson. During the managerial search, Peterborough opted to move the experienced midfielder into the technical area as a caretaker manager. However, instead of following the traditional route into management, McCann took the opportunity to return to Northern Ireland. He would have a short stint at Linfield before retiring, making just five appearances but showing that he could still play at that level, having added a goal and two assists to his tally.
Meanwhile, at Peterborough United, Grant McCann was replaced by Graham Wrestley, who held the title for a season before relinquishing the role for the returning McCann. However, his return to the club could be described as stable as the side consistently finished mid-table under his tenure. There was a steady improvement, year on year, but by his third season in charge, the owner believed that club's development had stagnated. As a result, McCann was removed from his position, and Steve Evans replaced him until the end of the season. Darren Ferguson would re-join the club following his previous tenures (2007-2009 and 2011-2015) at the season's conclusion. He would remain in charge until the return of McCann. Essentially, the pair played a game of leapfrog with the Peterborough United head coach position.
Potentially concerningly, McCann is best known for his work in attacking quarters of the game. He can help a side become more dangerous and clinical going forward, but some have questioned his defensive credentials. While, undoubtedly, having conceded some 76 goals this season, the defensive side of the game needs improvement at Peterborough.
Once dubbed with praise for his League One Tikki-takka, McCann is a footballing purist when his situation permits and elements of this DNA will be visible in Peterborough's play. Still, it will undoubtedly take a more pragmatic form as he tries to marry his designs with the Posh's playing personnel. The effects of this style of play will be visible, if at all, in the final third. Following fellow modern Tikki-takka coaches, McCann likes to coach passing sequences that can help his side fashion chances. Expect some crisp passing and dynamic running moves in the final third if his tactical philosophy takes hold. Several of his current squad will benefit from this style of play. The academy graduates and young players selected from the lower leagues will become more attractive options for top tier sides if they can perform in such a system making their chance of moving up the leagues more likely. Meanwhile, this will benefit the club in the long run, allowing them to reinvest the funds gained into the squad to further their designs toward a Premier League future.
However, McCann is no novice at coaching a lesser side in the league. His time at Hull City, marred by the disruptions and uncertainty behind the scenes, saw him try to grapple with the situation and maintain the club's short term Championship future. He may have ultimately failed, but this experience will have helped him develop his tactical understanding and how you stake an unlikely charge to survival.
At Hull City, he opted for a 4-4-2 in defence. However, this was too open and resulted in several drummings. So instead, he has decided to use the fashionable 5-3-2. His attackers and midfielders work to filter the ball out wide in this system. Once the opposition is on the periphery, their wingbacks attempt to make life difficult for the wingers to stop the ball from getting into the box. If the wingback fails in this hardy task, the midfielders drop into the box. McCann aims to outnumber the opposition to win the aerial duel and second balls by pushing these players back. He often positions one of these midfielders, often the most creative of the players, outside the box as an outlet that can provoke a quick counterattack.
The question is, though, has he made a positive impact? He has been in charge at Peterborough for just over a month. On paper, there has been a negligible improvement. However, their recent victory over playoff hopefuls QPR reflects a growing improvement in performance. Moreover, despite often ending up on the wrong end of the scoreline, their current promising displays must be taken as a positive sign after a widely disappointing season. Grant McCann has had his influence on the side, and, in time, he could prove to be an intelligent acquisition, even if he fails to keep the side in the Championship.
One To Watch: Jeando Fuchs
We noted a few other players as potential dangermen with Middlesbrough travelling to face Peterborough United. Oliver Norburn, a fellow midfielder, has had to accept a period on the sidelines due to injury. In contrast, previous key players Hugh Grant and Nathan Thompson have had to take a secondary role since McCann's arrival. Jeando Fuchs, on the other hand, has been something of a regular for McCann. A signing in the January transfer window, he has managed to hit the ground running after moving from Dundee United. However, while all but one of his appearances have been starts, he has only donned the Posh blue ten times since his arrival. The limited number of appearances means that evaluating the player is somewhat contentious. Nonetheless, Fuchs' impressive start should be noted.
At 24 years old, Fuchs is still relatively young for a footballer, and there is still considerable room for him to grow into a serious talent. Yet, a previously stated interest from Rangers and Celtic indicates that he isn't far off becoming a serious player.
Jeando Fuchs is a midfielder. Many outlets depict him as capable in all three central roles in most sources (CDM, CM, CAM), but he specialises in the No. 6 role (CDM). Fuchs is a very physical presence at the centre of midfield, making him well suited to the physical remit of the EFL. A strength (literally) that he utilises during his defensive responsibilities with great success. Fuchs' 3.6 tackles per 90 are second to none in the Peterborough side; if he could sustain this return across a whole season, he would be the 2nd most prolific tackler in the league. However, he has not provided enough data to compare him to the league at just ten appearances. Having a player with such good combative success encourages the opposition to avoid that central area of the field, working to McCann's tactical advantage.
Meanwhile, the compact system and his reading of the game have complemented each other to the tune of 1.7 interceptions per game. A return that joint top in Peterborough's tally alongside previously mentioned Norburn. If he managed to sustain that return over a season, he would sit between 20th and 27th in the league. An impressive return for a side renowned for its terrible defensive record.
Despite these positive returns, Jeando Fuchs also has his defensive shortcomings. His combative style means that he frequently overcommits, resulting in 1.6 fouls per match. However, it is crucial to recognise that the Cameroon international is astute in tactical fouls, which has inflated this return despite aiding his side in the short and long term. Additionally, he largely remains in control when tackling the opposition, having remained out of the referee's book despite committing 16 fouls since arriving in England. Furthermore, this would not put him among the worst offenders in the league, but between 6th and 12th. Finally, he seems to struggle with 1-on-1 situations with dynamic dribblers. He has been dribbled past 1.2 times per game, joint-most in the side and between 14th and 23rd in the league.
His most significant failings appear in other factions of his game, though. With 27 average passes per 90, Fuchs is 16th in the side in basic distribution statistics. A point of contention for some who will point to distribution as a cornerstone of a midfielder's role. Meanwhile, his 70% pass success ratio means that three in every ten of his passes do not find their intended target. A concern for someone who tends to sit in a deeper role as this could unintentionally add pressure to his leaky defence. Yet, a detailed analysis of his distribution somewhat alleviates these concerns. While he may be a defensive midfielder by trade, he has an eye for a pass. Despite focusing on the defensive aspects of a midfielder's job, Fuchs' has managed to provide 0.7 key passes per match, the 7th best in the side. From these defence-splitting passes, he has had a return of one assist, a solid return for him.
Furthermore, his one long pass per game shows that Fuchs has had to adjust to a new distribution format following his transfer to the Posh. At Dundee United, the Cameroon midfielder regularly produced accurate long balls that managed to find the teammates' feet instigating counterattacks in their direct style. Under McCann, he has had to curb these tendencies, resulting in some minor teething problems reflected in his less-than-ideal passing statistics. Moreover, his success in this area has been called into question by his questionable first touch. Fuchs has the fourth-highest dispossessed rate on the Peterborough side. A concern for McCann. However, for Middlesbrough, his lack of resistance to a press represents a serious opportunity.
This mixed return may question his right to be named as Peterborough United's one to watch. However, the eye test highlights his central importance beyond the statistics. The decision by many outlets to feature him across the midfield roles, despite showing a prevalence for defensive work, comes from his tireless work ethic. Fuchs is arguably one of very few players that can stake a claim to be considered in a similar ilk to Kante. A defensive player first, he can plug in spaces when in possession (often described as a Carrilero) which helps to add some defensive structure against quick counterattacks. In return, the defensive record has improved when he is involved. Likewise, this movement and engine allow him to be everywhere on the pitch (enter Kante memes). Unfortunately, these players are scarce, and he could be a challenging customer this weekend.
Expect him to step up even more once Fuchs has adjusted to the new league, new club, new area, and new manager's playing style.
Hot Prospect: Ronnie Edwards
Yes. I have named a defender as the hot prospect despite their atrocious defensive record this season. Still, I bear with us as we explain why Ronnie Edwards has the potential to traverse his early entrance into football to become a serious talent.
Ronnie Edwards has been thrown into the deep end this season at the tender age of 19. A young player that came through Barnet's youth academy without making a first-team appearance, he arrived at Peterborough as an unknown quantity in 2020. Yet, by the following season, he would be starting for the Posh in a Championship season that would always be an uphill battle. Furthermore, unlike most young players, Edwards did not have the luxury of adjusting to men's football through loans in the lower leagues. Instead, he arrived on the professional stage under the limelight of Championship football, of Peterborough's recent promotion limelight.
He would have hoped for a better record this season, and he will have to take the blame for his share of the side's 76 conceded goals this season. However, despite watching his net ripple so frequently, he has shown an exciting spark of potential this season. England has also seen this potential, giving him 6 U19 caps despite his club's failings.
Edwards and his fellow defenders have constantly been under the cosh this season. However, he has tried his best to alleviate the pressure with his 3.3 clearances per match. A vital contribution as it gives the opposition time to breathe. The 19-year-old's success in this perimeter is primarily thanks to his ability to understand and read the game allowing him to position himself correctly to remove the danger. Equally, this reading of the game has allowed him to step out of defence or back behind the defensive line to intercept the opposition's passes. His 1.3 interceptions per match so far this season positions him 3rd in the side, unsurprisingly at the expense of the sides midfielders, who are exposed to more passes which they have an opportunity to get in the way of. He is willing to put his body in the way, averaging 0.5 blocks per game, but this side of the game has been secondary to the other previously mentioned elements of the game. However, his frame could be a cause for concern. At just 1.8m tall (5ft 9in), he is a considerable weakness in the air. Additionally, his slight build means that he is often singled out by the Championship's stronger forwards. To counteract this, Peterborough United has lined him up alongside taller, experienced, and physical defenders, but his physical limitations will cause concern for clubs keeping an eye on the young talent.
Edwards comes into his own in possession. His 51 passes per game is nothing short of impressive for a centre back plying his trade in the hollows of the league. He trumps every other player at Peterborough in this aspect. At the same time, he sits an incredibly respectable 31st in the league across all positions. Yet, he augments his desire to get on the ball at the back to make things happen with a phenomenal pass success rate. Ronnie Edwards has seen 89.9% of his passes find their target (or 9 out of 10 passes), placing him an incredibly respectable 5th in the whole league.
Furthermore, these passes aren't solely short conservative plays either; Edwards will occasionally kickstart the side's build-up play with a long pass. He averages 3.7 long passes per game. While only 4th in the team, he sits alongside Dael Fry on the Championship complete standings at 51st and 52nd, respectively (this may sound low, but these stats include goalkeepers who often rack up multiple long passes). Edwards's confidence and aptitude on the ball have been vital for Peterborough as they have tried to stick to their philosophy in the Championship. He may have failed as part of the collective defensively, but his distribution will have pricked up a few ears in the upper echelons of English football.
Edwards is a modern centre back, and if he can continue to develop, he could find himself in the colours of an established European giant. However, he must first show that he can overcome his physical limitations and excel at the Championship level.
The 20-year-old is nearing 50 appearances for the Posh, showing tha the club believes in his potential. He has shown his ability on the flanks with some very impressive displays and statistics to back them up. If he can turn these impressive displays into more tangible goal contributions then, he could become a serious young talent.
Prediction: Peterborough United 1-3 Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough often slips up against opposition like Peterborough. However, Chris Wilder's men should have too much quality for the Posh.