'That was perhaps his biggest problem': the lowdown on former Peterborough and Hull boss Grant McCann - the new bookies' favourite for Portsmouth head coach role

Former Peterborough and Hull boss Grant McCann has emerged as the new bookies’ favourite for the vacant head coach role at Fratton Park.
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And with The News believing the Blues will announce their replacement for Danny Cowley in the next 48 hours, we reached out to the Peterborough Telegraph’s Ben Jones to get the lowdown on the Northern Irishman – just in case he does emerge victorious in the race to take control at Fratton Park.

Here’s how our conversation went…

Q Firstly, what went wrong for McCann at Posh?

I think one of the main frustrations people had with him was the tactics. He was very set in wanting to play 4-3-3.

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He won the league with that with Hull, but the problem for us was our squad was not compatible to that style.

We have Jack Marriott and Jonson Clarke-Harris, who, in League One, should be a deadly strike force. But by playing 4-4-3 he would decide to player either Marriott or Clarke-Harris – not both.

More often than not it ended up being Clarke-Harris because he’s bigger, more of a target man – which is what McCann likes, our own Josh Magennis, really.

Former Peterborough and Hull boss Grant McCann is the new favourite among the bookies for the vacant head coach role at Pompey   Picture: Michael Regan/Getty ImagesFormer Peterborough and Hull boss Grant McCann is the new favourite among the bookies for the vacant head coach role at Pompey   Picture: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Former Peterborough and Hull boss Grant McCann is the new favourite among the bookies for the vacant head coach role at Pompey Picture: Michael Regan/Getty Images

We also just couldn’t plug the goals at the back, either.

We were conceding a lot of goals, which is the exact opposite of his Hull side, and he just seemed be forcing the players into a formation that didn’t really fit them – that was perhaps his biggest problem.

Q So it’s 4-3-3 regardless? He didn’t switch it to save his job when the going was getting tough?

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We started off the season at Cheltenham. We went 2-0 down at half-time, playing 4-3-3, and he changed it to a back three and we won 3-2 that day.

For about a month we played with three at the back, without much success, but then the chairman (Darragh MacAnthony) stepped in and told him to go back to 4-3-3.

And once he did, there was no changing. We made changes in games but it was always 4-3-3, this is the way we play. It didn’t matter if we were still searching for goals, Jack Marriott was still be on the bench. So, yeah, he was very steadfast in sticking to that formation.

Q How did Peterborough fans take the news that McCann had been sacked?

He had a good relationship with Posh fans from previous experiences and that bought him a lot of time.

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I think a lot of the frustrations were more aimed at the owners about not backing him and giving him players. There was a lot of unhappiness, really, about the way the club have recruited and I think a lot thought McCann wasn’t backed when he could have been.

It was getting to the point where many were not sure things were going to change, though. Part of the problem was Posh weren’t just losing games, the style of football was really poor as well, It was not very entertaining to watch, we were shipping a lot of goals – 30 goals in 24 league games.

So it was a lot of those factors – poor football, poor defence etc.

When you watch Darren Ferguson’s teams from the past, if it wasn’t going right after 20 minutes, he’d just switch the formation.

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But with McCann, he was making changes very late in games and I think a lot of people thought we just needed to try something different now.

The weirdest thing is, when we were in the Championship, he was brilliant, we looked so much better.

We went down in the end by four points but if that season had been three or four games longer, I’m sure we would have stayed up.

There was such a marked improvement when he took us over in the Championship. It was everything we’re not this season – tight at the back, scoring more goals, there was confidence in the team.

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That might have set the expectations quite high this season, to his own detriment.

He showed a lot of faith in the young players at the club. But I think some of them might have let him down, as did some of the senior players, for whatever reason.

Q What is McCann’s stance on youth and bringing young players through?

The club philosophy is to bring through youth and we have shown a lot of faith in them.

There’s an attitude: ‘we don’t need to buy this person, we’ve got X young player’.

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He was always very confident in his ability to develop players, but I feel, if he had wanted to go and sign a player, the club would have backed him. But he did show a lot of faith in our young players.

When there was talk that we were going to sell Jack Marriott, I asked him if we’d be signing a replacement and he said: ‘look what I did with Keane Lewis-Potter’. He has a lot of faith in his own coaching and his coaches.

Q How much say did he have in Peterborough’s signings during the summer?

Darragh is quite involved in the signings but McCann assured us that former Pompey target Efron Mason-Clark was his find and insisted on signing him.

Darragh didn’t want him, saying he was at Barnet too long, but McCann insisted he was a player he wanted.

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He was allowed to bring a new coach into the club and from what I understand there’s not be a lot change around the training ground since he left.

It does seem MacAnthony did pretty much say ‘tell me everything you want and I’ll do my best to get it for you’.

Q You mentioned the team’s style of play earlier. Apart from playing 4-3-3, what is McCann’s footballing philosophy?

My answer would be – I can’t tell you, really.

When you watch a Ferguson team, you know what you’re going to get from the team – attacking football, free-flowing stuff.

But I don’t think I can tell you what a Grant McCann team does.

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That was a thing that also didn’t help him this season. I don’t think he gave the team an identity in terms of style of play.

That was another one of his biggest issues.

Q Would he fit into the structure currently in place at Pompey, with a sporting director operating alongside him?

I think so. When you spoke to him about transfers, we’d always say ‘Barry (Fry) and the chairman are working really hard on this one’, ‘I’ve got complete faith in them’.

He’d be the type who would say ‘give me all of this off the field and I will work with what you give me on the field – I will also improve what we have’.