… Guess who’s back, back again? Big Ron’s back, tell a friend. Yep, it’s time to go to 2006 again, you lucky people. Troubleshooter Atkinson has been at Posh for 6 weeks as we rejoin him; and caretaker Steve Bleasdale’s new manager bounce has all but evaporated, with his side out of the playoffs and winless in three matches. Can the slump be arrested this week?
Atkinson is analysing the ugly events from the end of episode 2, and has mixed emotions: the physical altercation is not an issue in the veteran manager’s book, but the scapegoating of young players (namely Danny Crow and Sean St Ledger) has some alarm bells ringing for the big man. We soon move onto a more advanced issue for Ron to dissect: tactics. Atkinson philosophically explains that the classic lower league long ball game involves… Wait for it… ‘Getting the ball, and playing it long up the pitch’, whilst the short passing tactic he prefers involves (you’ll never guess this) ‘short passing amongst team mates’. Hark at José MouRonho over here.
Anyway, the troubleshooter helpfully explained this to give context to an issue that has been highlighted at the training ground. From Monday to Friday, a short passing philosophy is practiced; On a Saturday, Bleasdale goes all John Beck and tells his players to welt it into the channels like madmen. The players are confused, and Steve becomes rather defensive over his methods when quizzed by Ron. Away from the training ground, bigger problems are brewing. In his first appearance of the episode, owner Barry Fry is preparing for a meeting with Bleasdale to discuss the attitudes of certain employees. Is Baz calm and level headed as he prepares for the potentially crucial talks? Is he fuck. “If I picked the fackin’ team I’d drop ’em… But I don’t pick the team no more so I can’t” he shouts.
Fast forward a few hours, and Steve is in Barry’s office to mull over the attitude problem that is stinking out the club. Bleo must have been regretting this meeting, as the only solution Fry could offer- “honestly Steve, you need to fuck ’em off if the attitude is that bad”- is totally unviable; if anyone with an attitude problem was ‘fucked off’, we would have been struggling to field a 5 a side team. As the meeting is in full swing, two surprise arrivals rock up: Messrs Crow and St Ledger, here to complain about extra training sessions they’ve been asked to attend. The youngsters say they’re being punished and remarkably, I agree with Baz on this issue. “Is it fuck a punishment Danny” proclaims Fry. Sean then begins throwing accusations about him being singled out by Bleasdale… While they are sat next to each other!! The lack of respect towards the Scouser is staggering. Eventually, an uneasy truce is thrashed out… Which lasts less than 24 hours, as St Ledger is clearly sulking in training the following day, and even veteran Mark Arber is taking no notice of Bleo. It’s all gone pear shaped.
Fry calls a team meeting to try and release some of the building pressure around the squad, and he makes his frustrations clear: “I’m fed up of fackin’ cliques and nobody having no fackin’ guts, sort it out!!”. Ron adds his two-penneth, saying it’s no good being good on the training ground and poor on a match day… Posh being better on the training pitch than the football pitch, who’d have thunk it?? Attentions turn to the upcoming local derby, against that lot who have an inability to say the word ‘Nene’: Northampton Town. Atkinson’s tactical masterclass continues with Bleo in his company this time: Steve is angling for a 3-4-3, but Ron can’t help but interfere and push for a 4-4-2 (this led to me shouting ‘FUCK OFF ‘ several times at my TV screen, due to the actions of the latter). Eventually, the boss gets his way, and an Antonio Conte style system is put in place, with Dean Holden and Dave Farrell at wing back, and Lloyd Opara as a winger. Square pegs in round holes at London Road, who’d have thunk it??
Posh start the match well, with crisp, short passing and a few early chances created for the forwards, but are unsuccessfully converted. And that’s where the positives end: Sean St Ledger believes his own hype and tries to dribble out of his own penalty area… The inevitable happens, the Irishman is dispossessed and Posh are 1-0 down. It goes from bad to worse for the home side, as captain Dean Holden suffers a season ending injury, and Posh are denied a penalty when a Cobblers defend virtually caught the ball on his own goal line. As the teams trudge off, Ron turns to the camera and offers a real nugget to the Sky One viewers: “St Ledger [dribbled from his own penalty area] in training this week, I asked him why he did. He turned to me and said ‘Rio Ferdinand does it’. I told him ‘Well John Terry doesn’t do it, and he’s a proper centre back.'” So to clarify, in Ron’s world, 81 England caps, 6 Premier League titles, a Champions League medal, a place in the Fifa world team of the year and £50 million in transfer fees doesn’t make a proper centre back. OK.
Steve tries to rally his side at half time, despite losing Danny Crow to ‘the shits’ (sic) and leaves his troops with a skin crawling message of ‘Give it to Adam Newton and he’ll fuckin’ rape them’ (sic). As the second half is about to begin, Ron leans forwards and confidently tells Bleo ‘you’ll win this easily’. The Scouser turns, and like a shit tribute to that one Little Britain sketch replies : ‘yeah, I know’.
Posh lost 1-0.
Bleasdale is remarkably calm after the game, telling his men that they couldn’t have done anything to avoid defeat. In his match day debrief, Fry expresses concern that Steve is spreading himself too thin, and focussing on tactics too much, a criticism that I can say with a fair bit of certainty Fry never had thrown at him during his managerial career. Bleasdale is in a sombre mood as the cameras follow him on his long drive that night home to Merseyside, and we begin to see the human side of Steve, a devoted family man who is already drained by his short managerial career, and I do genuinely feel sorry for the rookie boss pouring his heart and soul into the job.
Onto the final part of episode 3, and a tricky trip to Gigg Lane to play bogey side Bury lies ahead. The Posh camp are sweating on the fitness of every single striker, James Quinn is a confirmed absentee, whilst Logan and Opara are both lacking match fitness and Danny Crow is ‘exhausted’ (all that extra training I imagine). Here, we experience two firsts: Steve Bleasdale admitting he’s nervous for a match, and notably, Big Ron is on the bench for the first time to assist Steve, as- to quote the manager- ‘we need all the help we can get’. Richard Logan eventually didn’t make the first eleven, but it clearly didn’t matter, as on 44 minutes, Danny Crow gave Posh a lead to end a quiet first half. His manager is already anxious about the remainder of the match, and is relying on his vastly experienced troubleshooter to give his troops a bit of advice in the changing room. This came in the form of Ron shouting “make sure you stop the crosses lads”. Bloody inspiring.
Steve obviously had nothing to worry about, as a neat passing move on the edge of the Bury penalty area was finished off by Adam Newton; Posh looked good value for their two goal lead, yet still Steve was visibly nervous in the dugout. Minutes later, an awful attempt by the Posh defence to win the ball results in a penalty being conceded, which incenses Bleo. “WHAT!? He fucking fell over!! The fucking bastard!!” *Steve throws his baseball hat to the floor in disgust* “HE FUCKING DIVED! The fucking fuckers” was one of the more underrated monologues in the series. Like that camp dad you always get at a junior match who knows nothing about football and is always resonsible for calming all the other parents down, Ron shouts “Don’t worry Steve! The goalie will save it! Come on goalie!!”. Needless to say, the Posh lead was reduced to 2-1.
Bleasdale is still incandescent, picking fights with the home support, the home players, the fourth official and practically anything with a pulse in Greater Manchester. This earns Bleasdale a warning from referee Mike Pike- yes, that really is his name- but even this fails to calm the manager down. “If this fucking ref loses us the match I’ll fucking chin the c**t” he mutters.
Fast forward to injury time, and the hosts have a later corner kick. Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel (I wonder what happened to him?) sprinted 100 yards to join the attack. Posh cleared quickly up to their lone attacker Danny Crow. He managed to evade the challenge of the token defender Bury left in their own half and dribble the ball into the back of the empty net, to the delight of everyone of a Posh persuasion, especially Steve Bleasdale. The Boro manager is deemed to be over exuberant, and is escorted by stewards to the dressing room to stop him from causing a full blown riot by the Bury fans. This can’t dampen Steve’s mood, and there is a real buzz in the Posh camp as their 3 goals seal 3 crucial points. Could this fairy tale have a happy ending!?
Yeah, we all know how it goes. Come back this time next week to get a definitive answer. If you want to reminisce further, head to the forum now.