When Jonson Clarke-Harris left Bristol Rovers to sign for Peterborough on August 27 last year, a transfer merry-go-round began to turn.
His arrival at the Weston Homes Stadium paved the way for Posh’s in-demand striker Ivan Toney to join Brentford, which, in turn, allowed the Bees to sell Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa for a Championship record fee.
All three moves were completed inside a fortnight and have been mutually beneficial; Toney is on course to break the second-tier goalscoring record, while Watkins has settled impressively as Villa look to cement a top-half Premier League finish.
Clarke-Harris was the only one of the trio not to step up a division, but he has taken his game to new heights under the guidance of Darren Ferguson, with a career-best 23 goals in all competitions so far firing the club firmly into automatic promotion contention in League One.
“My confidence is sky high,” he tells Sky Sports in an exclusive interview, after collecting the Sky Bet League One Player of the Month award for February.
“There’s always pressure, but it’s good pressure. The boy Toney smashed it here and he’s smashing it now. He’s made me want to do better.
“It just makes me feel like I’m going to get a chance every game and score every game – it’s just down to me to put them in the back of the net. I know players are going to give me chances, it’s just me finishing them off.”
It is, in fact, the second time Clarke-Harris – the division’s current joint-top scorer with Sunderland’s Charlie Wyke on 21 goals – has played for the club within the last decade.
Having hit the headlines when he became Coventry’s youngest player just three weeks after his 16th birthday in August 2010, he first signed for Posh two years later but departed for Oldham after just one season having failed to make a first-team appearance.
There’s no talk of this being a second chance, though; rather everything fitting into place at just the right time.
“I don’t see it as a second chance at all,” he continues, in a steadfast manner.
“When I was here the first time, I was young and I was nowhere near the first team. We had people like Dwight Gayle, Paul Taylor, Grant McCann, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and they were all on fire at the time.
“It was tough to even get anywhere near the team when they were in the Championship, so I feel like this is my perfect time to come back to the club and hopefully succeed with them.”
The 26-year-old reveals Ferguson – who was also at the helm during his first spell – played a key role in persuading him to leave Rovers and return.
“Midway through lockdown I spoke to the boss, who told me there was interest and asked if I would like to be a part of his plans. I was happy I got the phone call because I definitely did. He’s got a winning mentality, the club have always got top players and every season they have a right go and try and get promotion.
“I knew what Peterborough were trying to do this year and that’s something I wanted to be involved in. I always knew I was going to get goals in this team and I’m at a certain point now where I just want to carry on and get better.
“I had a good season-and-a-half at Bristol Rovers and it convinced me more than ever that I can score goals. Coming to Peterborough where there’s better players and a better squad, it made sense for me to make the step to progress in my career.”
Eight long years have passed since Peterborough were relegated from the Championship, while Clarke-Harris himself hasn’t played at second-tier level since last doing so with Rotherham in 2016/17. Both now have a golden chance to return.
A perfect six wins from six in February took them to the top of League One for the first time since November yet March has started with a draw and two disappointing defeats, one of which came last week against Hull, who have taken over as leaders and are currently blazing a trail with a six-point advantage.
Ferguson’s men, however, have three games in hand, the first of which comes on Tuesday against managerless Portsmouth, who parted company with Kenny Jackett after their Papa John’s Trophy final defeat to Salford. Their target is in sight.
“We can clearly see in the final months who’s got the better motivation, who’s the fittest, who’s the strongest,” he adds. “These are the times when we see the teams that can rise above the others.
“Touch wood, it [the schedule] is just one of those things we’ve got to get on with. The boss gives us days off when he feels like we need a rest and he tones down the training when he feels as though we’ve worked hard enough.
“The sports scientists at the club are spot on as well. I think they’ve got it under control more than we actually think we have ourselves as players but we’re all fit enough to last through the season anyway.
“We’ve got to take every step as it comes. That was always the goal, to get promotion. We’re in such a good position now I feel like we can do it, we’ve just got to go out on the pitch and show it.
“I can’t comment on next season because we’re not there yet but it would be nice to get to Championship level again and show everybody what not only I can do but what the rest of the squad can do as well.”
It could just be a matter of months until Clarke-Harris gets the chance to do just that.