Oh bugger. Whilst the new look Posh squad enter the final stages of their pre-season preparations, there’s a major omission on their Portuguese hotel reservation: Gwion Edwards. The Welsh wide man yesterday completed a move to Ipswich Town, having refused a contract extension after entering the last 12 months of his deal. Edwards was only here for two years, but he played his way into the hearts of Posh fans in that time and will be regarded as a terrace favourite for years to come. Here, I’ll look back at Gwion’s (far too brief) time in Cambridgeshire and what this move means for us.
Gwion Dafydd Rhys Edwards (a man whose name could only sound more Welsh if a third middle name was Leek-Llandudno) joined Posh from Crawley two years ago for… you guessed it, an undisclosed fee. The same old bravado was blasted out when he put pen to paper for manager Grant McCann’s new side; we were promised goals, assists, explosive attacking displays and exciting wing play. As promising as that sounded, it was seen as a bit odd that we should go for a winger in addition to Jon Taylor and Marcus Maddison when the masterplan for the 2016/17 season was a 4-4-2 diamond; I know it’s hard to believe that it didn’t look like there was a plan at Peterborough United, but there we go. As it happens, Edwards was actually a replacement for the popular Scouser Taylor, who’d made a divisional jump to Rotherham United (it was a record fee for T’Millers. So probably about a thruppence). The pressure was already on Gwion to deliver and justify the sale of Taylor before a ball had been kicked.
Surprisingly, Edwards didn’t initially start for his new employers. McCann’s diamond was compressed, with the midfield wide points being the modern day Chuckle Brothers of Jermaine Anderson and Leo Da Silva Lopes, leaving Edwards stranded on the bench for the opening match of the 2016 season against Rochdale. The score was delicately poised by halftime at 2-2, when Edwards was introduced in place of the ineffectual/hopeless Anderson, and against the run of play, the former Swansea man made an instant impact. A fumbled Paul Taylor cross in the 89th minute fell kindly to Edwards, who had ghosted into the area and planted a header into the Dale net to claim an unlikely victory on his debut.
And with that goal, Gwion firmly established himself as a first teamer. He started the next 8 league games, and by October had scored an impressive five goals, occasionally as a vertex in the diamond, but primarily as an out and out winger, as Grant McCann honed the tinkering skills that led to his downfall. Edwards coped though. As well as this positional versatility, Gwion showcased a diverse skillset to ensure that Jon Taylor was just a distant memory for the Posh faithful: 3 of those first 5 goals came from headers (a mean feat given that he’s 5 foot 9), his knack of ghosting into the right place at the right time created chances aplenty for his side and most notably, the searing pace and direct dribbling meant he was a lethal weapon going forward.
As the games ticked by, Edwards’ stock grew. The Welshman provided an assist for Tom Nichols to round off a fine Nene derby win and the same duo combined to steal all 3 points from Bristol Rovers in victories that lifted the pressure that had started to mount on McCann (I’ve got to say, you must be bloody good to consistently assist Tom Nichols). Gwion’s finest games in a Posh shirt came as we approached Christmas 2016; goals in the cup against Notts County, and an excellent performance against Chesterfield featured a stunning goal from range as Edwards established himself as one of our most crucial players. The week after that Chesterfield match, the former Crawley man netted undoubtedly his finest goal for Boro: a 6-pointer against Charlton saw us clinging onto a one goal lead just after half time. Edwards picked up the ball inside his own half, beat 4 men and accelerated into the area; he slowed down to a coast and clinically rifled the ball into the Valiants’ net. It was a remarkable solo effort that secured a 2-0 victory. Edwards was on top of the world.
Now, we were going to have to talk about it eventually… Edwards is a reincarnated Darren Anderton. There were concerns about his fitness from day one, and any game that the Swansea academy graduate missed was generally a precautionary measure than a tactical one. After that stunning goal in South London, Edwards-or more specifically, his body- began a downward spiral that would see his first season end prematurely. The Welshman looked rusty as the goals and assists dried up. A common theory behind Gwion’s woeful injury record is the nature of his game: explosive runs and quick turns on his low centre of gravity mean strains and twists are pretty frequent (maybe. I think. I’m not a physio). It’s unclear whether it was this theoretical weakness or an unfortunate impact injury that was responsible, but in February 2017, we had to endure the sickening sight of Edwards leaving the field on a stretcher during a shambolic defeat to Walsall. Whilst the injury kept him out for 8 weeks as opposed to the 8 months that was initially suspected, it was still a season-ender for Gwion.
When Edwards’ knee had healed, it was the pre-season of 2017-18, and Edwards was bizarrely seen as a wingback for Grant McCann’s new look side. Whilst this was a bit like buying an iPad and using it as a lap tray, Edwards adapted to his new role; the exciting attacking play from his debut season continued and he didn’t buckle under the added defensive pressure that this unfamiliar position required. A goal in the rout against Northampton helped Posh to maintain a perfect start to the season, as McCann’s tactical innovation looked to be paying off. ‘Looked to’ was the crucial phrase, of course.
Our form started to wobble. McCann fiddled with the line up, the tactics, the formation and just about anything he could lay his hands on. Edwards was deployed as a winger on occasion, and deeper at left wing back on others. After 12 points from 12 in August, our form then read 9 from 30. It would have been 8 from 30 had Edwards not netted an equaliser at the Banks’ stadium to avenge his injury on the same ground earlier in the year. We were shit. Edwards suffered a minor injury that kept him out of 3 games, all of which saw Posh on the losing end. Coincidence? I think not.
Our form continued to stutter more than that bloke from ‘The King’s Speech’ did. Languishing outside of the play offs, Posh headed north-west for a must win encounter with Fleetwood. It was a year to that day since Edwards’ high point at Charlton; however, the elation of that solo goal was a distant memory for anyone of a Posh persuasion. 8 minutes in, and Edwards was on the Highbury turf in agony. Gwion was stretchered off, and whilst his replacement Danny Lloyd secured a last gasp victory, Posh had suffered a huge loss that day. Edwards looked set to be out for the season with a serious knee injury, and Posh looked bollocksed.
We all know that within a few months, Posh had a new larger than life manager who of course couldn’t select Edwards. Steve Evans had made his team ‘workmanlike’ to put it nicely, and the inspiration and excitement Gwion Edwards’ pace provided was missed even more than it was under Grant McCann. Therefore, it was no surprise Evans was desperate to get the Welshman back in ASAP, having bigged up Edwards and claimed how he was on the verge of taking him to Rotherham United whilst the Scot was in the hotseat there. What was surprising however, was the nature of Edwards’ return to football. He didn’t play a single reserve game, and nor was he named on the bench as a token gesture; in the Nene derby Edwards stunningly started, even though his name wasn’t mentioned by the usually brash Evans in the pre-match press conference. The gamble paid off; whilst Edwards wasn’t at his scintillating best, his fitness held up and Posh secured a much needed victory against their oldest rivals.
Edwards incredible return wasn’t short lived either; he started the remaining 6 games-including a stand out display against Rochdale and a goal to open the scoring against Shrewsbury- and he deserved that starting place. Admittedly, it was a combination of his excellence and his teammates’ collective ineptitude that he held onto this place. He bought something to the side that no other individual could: genuine pace that would terrify defences of all levels, something that made him a real fan favourite.
Of course, Edwards rejected the contract extension I mentioned, and the powers that be decided it was best if the winger was sold on. It was a brave decision, as his replacements are unproven (Siriki Dembele and Isaac Buckley-Ricketts), a totally different type of player (George Cooper) or downright not very good (Joe Ward). Edwards will be dearly missed, and as delighted I am for him to take a step up, I am gutted that it couldn’t be with us. I’m willing to bet that if Edwards stays injury free, he will be a successful Championship player. Whether the individuals he leaves behind at London Road can mirror this remains to be seen.