Tim Stoodley looks ahead to Saturday's clash with Oxford United at the ABAX Stadium.
Peterborough United welcome Oxford United to The ABAX Stadium in a Sky Bet League One encounter this weekend at 3pm. Michael Appleton's side currently sitting just one point and one place below Posh, but do have two games in hand.
Two back-to-back defeats have stuttered The U's play-off hopes, but they're a team that have the potential to cause issues, regardless of form, as Posh found out in the reverse of this tie back in August, which Oxford won 2-1. Like 'Boro, they very rarely draw, in fact you have to go back to New Year's Eve for their last stalemate. Peterborough's last draw came on January 2nd, so a result either way is nailed-on here. Oxford do have a day out at Wembley on their horizon as they have made the final of the EFL Trophy for the second consecutive season - they'll be hoping to go one better than last year, when they finished runner up to Barnsley.
Expect The U's to line up in a 4-4-2 formation, with either the traditional two front men, or a variation of 4-4-1-1. They're a team that defends first and looks to attack second - they have the fourth best defence in the league, conceding just over a-goal-per-game. By contrast, we ship an average 1.5 goals per match. Oxford have the fifth youngest squad in the division, as they rely predominately on young and hungry players, but they also have the joint smallest squad, with just 23 registered players. Joint with who? Peterborough United! They also rely on home-grown talent, as the team has just three foreign players, which is the lowest in the league.
The main goal threat from The U's comes in the form of former-Aberdeen and Sheffield Wednesday striker Chris Maguire. He's traditionally been a front-man during his career but Oxford have been utilising him on the right wing, where he's quite happy to cut inside and cause the defence problems or deliver a killer cross into the box. This has seen him joint-top assist maker for his side and also top scorer with nine goals this campaign. Maguire has even appeared for his native Scotland on two occasions.
Another striker that needs close attention on Saturday is Everton loanee Conor McAleny. He joined Oxford in January and has enjoyed a great start in the Oxfordshire capital. He's scored four goals from just five starts, including a sensational hat trick in Oxford's 0-4 drubbing away to Chesterfield. Expect him to start as one of the front-two, or if playing a 4-4-1-1, he'll sit just behind, as a creator to the number nine. McAleny has fantastic dribbling ability and tonnes of natural flair.
One of the main creator of chances in the side is left winger Marvin Johnson, who has worked his way up through the leagues, after starting his career at non-league side Solihull Moors. A spell at Aberdeen followed, before joining Michael Appleton in a move to The Kassam. He's joint-top assist maker, alongside Maguire, as both wings prove to be fruitful outlets for The U's. Johnson is comfortable at either left back or on his favoured left midfield and possess fantastic natural balance and pace. He's also known for his dribbling and crossing abilities.
Oxford United gaffer Michael Appleton is clearly onto a winning formula at The Kassam Stadium; promotion from League two last season, second consecutive final of the EFL trophy this season, 5th round of the FA Cup, where they pushed Middlesbrough all the way, and pushing hard for a play-off spot in League One. It's a great sight after his professional playing career was ended so early following a knee surgeon wrongly operating on his damaged joint. He's had spells at Pompey, Blackpool and Blackburn, but has really found his home in Oxford, and across 160 games has secured an impressive win ratio of 45%. His ability to work with young players has grown him a reputation to be proud of.
Mark Heywood is the man with the whistle for this tie. Saturday will be his 30th match of the season, which has been spent mainly in League One. He's dished out 135 yellows, at an average of 4.6 per game - one of the highest in the league, and he's shown red on 5 separate occasions. He's been the main man for two of Peterborough's games this season. Firstly, our 0-2 win away to MK Dons back in August - with Paul Taylor being cautioned that game, and then he also oversaw our 1-0 home win to Bolton on November 13th - Shaquille Coulthirst getting booked on that day. Interestingly, you have to go back to 2014 for the last time he officiated The U's.
You also have to go way back to 2001 for the last time Peterborough successfully beat Oxford. A late Leon McKenzie goal was enough to see Posh home with the three points in the old division two. This season and a 90th minute penalty from Chris Maguire saw them take the three points in the reverse of this tie. Jack Baldwin was sent off for two yellows as Peterborough suffered the defeat. Overall and the sides have met on 31 occasions, with Oxford claiming the spoils 14 times to Posh's 11. There have been just six draws between the two teams.
Gwion Edwards and Jermaine Anderson remain out for this fixture through injury. Jack Baldwin returns following his suspension, so we could see changes at the back on Saturday, and with Lee Angol joining Lincoln in the week, there could be changes up top as well for McCann's side.
League positions; Peterborough United - 10th Oxford United - 11th
Last five; Peterborough United - LLWLL Oxford United - WWWLL
Previous meeting; 20/08/2016 (League One) - Oxford United 2-1 Peterborough United
Average attendances (2015/16); Peterborough United - 5,447 Oxford United - 7,211
Top Scorer (league); Peterborough United - Tom Nichols (9) Oxford United - Chris Maguire (9)
Interesting fact: Front-man Chris Maguire appeared on Soccer AM's 'Skill School', back in 2008. He was crowned the winner after beating off competition from team mate Callum McRobbie. This was during his time at Aberdeen in the SPL.
Tickets for this one are cheaper for all areas of the stadium if purchased in advance and tickets are on sale at www.theposhtickets.com, via the Ticketmaster hotline 0844 847 1934* and in person at the ABAX Stadium Box Office.
*calls cost 7ppm plus your network access fee.