Peterborough United hoping Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final will inspire play-off return to Wembley
Peterborough United will make their first trip to the new Wembley on Sunday. Gavin Caney brings you all the latest build-up as Wembley fever grips the city.
It's taken Peterborough United 14 years to book a cup-final slot at the home of English football – so it's no surprise they don't want to wait quite as long before making their next visit to Wembley.
The Cambridgeshire city has been swept up by Johnstone's Paint Trophy final fever ever since Posh kept their nerve to brush aside Swindon Town in the southern area final last month. About 20,000 fans will descend on London to cheer on their heroes as they take on lower-level Chesterfield on Sunday. But boss Darren Ferguson already has one eye on making sure Posh turn the capital a shade of blue again later this year.
His League One promotion hopefuls are targeting an immediate return to the Championship and currently occupy the last play-off place. And after enduring a poor run of form – which has seen United lose five or their last seven matches – the London Road outfit's manager wants this trip to inspire a return journey in May.
Ferguson said: 'It's a great tool for me as a manager, to use it as a springboard for the remainder of the season.
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'Once we get a taste of Wembley we'll want to go back so I think it's a great opportunity for not only Sunday but the remainder of the season. But Sunday we'll have to take care of and we go there to Wembley wanting to win, simple as that. It comes at a great time for everyone. I think it gives everyone a lift. The whole town, there's been a lot of disappointment – which we've got to take the responsibility for – in the sense of the season and we want to win it for the fans.'
The blues, who will play in white against their League Two counterparts, haven't played at the new Wembley since it was first used in 2007. Their 2011 League One play-off final triumph was at Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium.
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The club's two previous trips to England's most famous footballing venue have also created memories for the right reasons. In 1992, Posh's maiden appearance under the iconic, but now demolished twin towers, saw them beat Stockport County 2-1 to win promotion out of the Third Division (now League Two). Arguably Andy Clarke's most memorable moment in a Posh shirt sealed a 1-0 play-off triumph over Darlington eight years later.
Peterborough's fine record in showcase games is matched by probably their most successful manager of all time's record in the dugout. Ferguson, the son of retired managerial great Sir Alex, has taken the Cambs club up on three separate occasions. While his second spell at London Road has been less successful, with the promotion favourites sitting sixth and hanging onto their aim of qualifying for the end-of-season shoot-out, guiding Peterborough to their first senior cup success would be an achievement in itself.
Winning the Football League Trophy (JPT) would be nothing new for the 42-year-old mind. He scored in Wrexham's 2005 final triumph at Wales' Millenium Stadium – and nearly put himself in a wheelchair while celebrating.
Looking back fondly, the Posh chief said: 'Again, it came at the right time for that club because we were one of the first clubs to go into administration unfortunately that year. We were actually challenging for the play-offs but lost 10 points and ended up getting relegated, but again it gave everyone such a lift.
'We took 18,000 to the Millenium, at a time when Wembley was getting redeveloped, and it really picked everyone up, and we're hoping that'll be the case on Sunday. I remember it, I scored, and I did this stupid somersault thing and nearly broke my neck – I didn't do it again after that. I just got caught up in all the delirium because it was almost the last minute. We played against Southend, we managed to win 2-0 after-extra-time, but unfortunately couldn't avoid relegation. It was a great day though and one you'll always remember.'
Ferguson will be hoping, after seeing off Brentford, Dagenham & Redbridge, Newport County and Swindon to meet the northern section's winners, to be on the winning side again. So will skipper Tommy Rowe who slotted home the penalty which sealed Posh's biggest day out since their trip to the home of Manchester United three years ago.
The versatile midfielder is expected to beat the hamstring problem which saw him miss his side's midweek loss at Preston North End. But he knows their League Two opponents, who sit third and have strong ambitions of reaching Posh's current division, will not be a pushover.
The Peterborough captain said: 'It's 50/50 on the day, it's whoever performs. They're there for a reason. They've beaten good teams to get there so they deserve their place.
'Nobody can disrespect that and they've been a very good side throughout the league as well. They'll be very strong so we need to go into the game full of confidence, as we always do, and do our best. We've got a lot of experience in our team, we're very young, but experienced in terms of games played and crucial games at that. On the day anything can happen. I've got quite a bit of family coming down, as you'd expect, and it's going to be a great day out. But it's not about the day out, it's about winning, and that's what we're going there for.'
Conor Washington, inset, Jack Baldwin, Ben Nugent and Nicky Ajose are all cup-tied so will be unable to influence matters on the hallowed turf.