Sunday 3rd December 2017. Christmas is just around the corner, and Peterborough United are locked firmly into their customary winter slump, having won just 4 of the past 15 matches. A spectacular cock up 5 days prior saw Posh snatch a draw from the jaw of victory in South East London, as Charlton came from 2-0 down in the 90th minute to end the League One match 2-2. Morale was approaching rock bottom at London Road; so a potential banana skin in the shape of Woking away in The FA Cup was far from ideal. Posh were, by all accounts, woeful that day (so much so, Darragh MacAnthony offered all Posh fans who went to that shitty corner of Surrey a refund). The match ended 1-1, and the only memorable thing about that afternoon was Woking goalscorer and man of the match: Joe Ward. 

9 days later, Posh dominated the replay, and came out 5-2 victors. Ward was anonymous as the side that Jay off of The Inbetweeners took to The Champions League slipped out of the cup, but the 22 year old’s display in the match meant he had already made a significant impact on Posh eyes. A change of formation, a serious injury to Gwion Edwards and the expected sale of Ward’s lookalike Marcus Maddison left Posh in desperate need of wingers come January. It was no surprise then, that the first signing of 2018 invoked De Souza’s Law (for those unfamiliar with it: “Should a player perform well against Peterborough United, it is probable that he shall be signed by them in the near future” [see: Lewis, Joe; White, Hayden; Torres, Sergio]), as Ward arrived in Cambridgeshire on a 2 and a half year contract. 

Seen as an exciting attacking talent with more than just a physical similarity to star man Marcus Maddison, hopes were high for Ward. And it looked like Posh had the real deal; the Essex native (oh shat turp) was chucked on in an away match to Wigan with the score at 0-0. His last minute vicious shot was parried by The Latics’ goalkeeper towards Jack Marriott, who duly put the ball in the back of the net. A dream start to Ward’s Peterborough United career… or it would have been, had the assistant referee not deemed Marriott to be offside. Nevertheless, the omens were good for the ex-Lincoln man.

 

Joe Ward: Look at how similar he is to Marcus Maddison

Of course, it soon went to shit. He was anonymous in his next two cameo appearances, and when he was given his first chance to start a match at Sincil Bank-his former workplace- he had the chance to nail down a first team spot. Ward was pulled off (fnarr) after an hour, having made no impact on the CheckaFreight Rover Glass Paint Van Trophy encounter, which saw Lincoln through to the semi final with a 4-2 victory. Incredibly, Ward displayed absolutely no attributes. He wasn’t fast, struggled to beat a man, couldn’t make a simple pass, could only cross a ball if he was stood still, and most worryingly, it looked like Barry Fry could have beaten him in a foot race. In a way, Ward fitted in with his new team mates, in that he was fucking woeful too. 

Grant McCann’s eclectic and erratic team selections saw Ward yo-yo between the bench and starting eleven. We finally saw a decent performance from the new boy in a draw against Scunthorpe in February; Ward this time found himself at wingback, and for once, showed why he found himself in League One. A diligent display in defence and attack should have been the memorable feature of this match; however, Ward was bizarrely substituted in the 80th minute of his best display of the season. Grant McCann later explained that Ward was taken off-against his wishes- because GPS data implied that he was tiring; Ward’s performance was forgotten, and his substitution became a lightning rod for criticism towards McCann.

Of course, Grant was out of the door less than a fortnight later. Steve Evans rocked up the next day, and Joe Ward was a fixture for the new manager. This didn’t say a lot; wide options were limited, and with the loan window no longer open to League One clubs, Evans was stuck with the tools McCann also had at his disposal. We all know that the Glaswegian’s reign got off to a fine start, but it was very much in spite of Ward’s presence, not because of it. He was inconspicuous, and soon found himself playing as an auxiliary striker, or not playing at all. When Ward did find his way onto the pitch, the only adjective that suitably described him was ‘non league’. The final straw for many Posh fans came in a shambolic home defeat by 10 men, relegation battling Rochdale. Ward was sent on to add impetus to the Posh attack; he put in an unforgettably bad display, as he lost possession umpteen times and most notably, cleared the London Road End with not one, but two shots. The dye was cast on the ex-Woking man’s Posh career: he was indisputably crap. And it’s not like football fans to be knee-jerk and stubborn with their judgments. 

Trevor Benjamin: Knows a thing or two about shots ending up in KFC’s car park

The 2017/18 season petered out, with Ward playing a bit part for the final month of the campaign. Steve Evans uncharacteristically spoke out about the players he had at his disposal, and it became quite clear that the squad Grant McCann had assembled was about to be smashed into hundreds of tiny pieces. A formal announcement came in the final week of the season: the day after the upcoming match against Portsmouth, Steve Evans would announce his retained/transfer list for 18-19. Another woeful performance, this time at Fratton Park, meant that Ward’s name was top of the hypothetical transfer lists being drawn up on social media and this thread on londonroad.net. It was a surprise, therefore, that when only 9 players were not made available for transfer, Ward was part of this fortunate nonet. Of course, being ‘retained’ means nothing. Andrew Hughes, Gwion Edwards and (somehow) Leo Da Silva Lopes moved up into the Championship; Liam Shephard and Danny Lloyd were quietly freecycled to the lower leagues. Surely Ward would follow those last two? 

He did not. The only players who remained at the club were reserve goalkeeper Conor O’Malley, Ryan Tafazolli and January recruits George Cooper and Ward himself (NB. Marcus Maddison was also here kind of. But he spent 3 months doing shit doodles on the skin of Peterborians, waiting for an imaginary big move to happen). A plethora of new signings parachuted into Posh, and the first chance for fans to see them came in a friendly at AFC Stamford’s Ryhall Road. There was one player though, that nobody recognised. And a good one at that: the right winger had a hand in all of Posh’s second half goals, scoring the final one in a 5-1 win himself. It was Joe Ward. He looked different; not only had he had a haircut and spent a bit too long on a sun bed, but he seemed stronger, bigger, faster. Above all, he looked a bit like a competent footballer. 

In spite of this transformation, Ward was by no means guaranteed a place in the team. Youngsters Isaac Buckley-Ricketts and Siriki Dembele were in the building, and George Cooper’s talents had been praised so much by Evans in 6 months, it was approaching grooming. However, Posh’s number 15 lined up against Bristol Rovers on the opening day; he was by no means spectacular, but highly competent as he helped his side to a 2-0 win. He started the next game. And the one after that. Posh won, he was again doing nothing spectacular, but was working hard.

 

This is Isaac Buckley-Ricketts. Apparently he plays for us

 

A spanner looked to have fallen into Ward’s works on 31st August; Marcus Maddison’s loan move to the Championship had fallen through. Posh had one winger surplus, and surely couldn’t afford to leave Maddison out of the eleven. The solution to this little predicament was obvious: sign another winger! Attacker Jamie Walker joined on loan from Wigan, for no reason whatsoever. Posh had 6 players who could play out wide, and given Ward’s perceived lack of flair, street cred and market value, he was in danger of dropping out of the seemingly invincible Posh side.

Posh dropped their first points of the season against the man who signed Ward: Grant McCann and his Doncaster side. In fairness, Ward was poor that day, and his dropping was probably justified for the next match. A week later, Southend were this time leading Posh, when Ward was sent on to try and salvage the match (there were groans all over the internet when this substitution was announced). He succeeded; Posh turned the game round, and it was Ward’s cross which Ivan Toney scored the winner from, as slowly, the doubters began to see his value. 

Ward started in Posh’s mauling by Portsmouth, which again saw him drop from the Posh eleven, as his appearances became as inconsistent as Posh’s form. Until the turning point came. Posh were 1-0 down away at Sunderland, where Steve Evans played a peculiar diamond. The tactical gamble didn’t work, and Evans threw Ward on at half time to try and save the game. With quarter of an hour left, Ward anticipated a deflected cross, and drilled a bouncing ball in for his first Posh goal. He’d gone from non-league to scoring at The Stadium of Light inside a year. Posh fans far and wide began to see his value. 

 

Joe Ward: Celebrating on Wearside

Ward’s confidence and competence grew. He was working hard, creating more and crucially, contributing more. He added another string to his bow when he was asked to fill in for Jason Naismith against Fleetwood, at right back. Ward excelled- and arguably eclipsed Naismith- as Posh won their first home match in 5, and his reading of the game and tactical intelligence were highlighted. And since then Ward has been a fixture in his natural position on the wing, and arguably our key player. His second goal came away at Burton, and it turned out to be crucial in a narrow win, and he finished off the comfortable disposal of Bromley last week with a clean strike following a good interception by him. He is THE form player in this squad.

I don’t know what’s happened to Joe Ward. Luck? Intense training? Steroids? (The lawyers a acting on behalf of londonroad.net would like to emphasise that the third suggestion is indeed a joke). Paul Raynor and Steve Evans deserve credit for taking a hopeless lad out of his depth and turning him into a real, proper footballer.

Want to have your say on Ward’s transformation? Or anything else Posh related for that matter? Head to the forum now

James Bloodworth (jwb1997)

Twitter: @jamesb17_