Grant McCann expressed his pleasure at last night’s performance against Scunthorpe United and was said to have told his squad that they were “a good side” and not far off being “a very good side”. On one point, McCann and I will agree.
For the first 15 minutes, Posh were at their scintillating best, gliding around their high-flying visitors with quick, one-touch passing. It didn’t take long to make the early pressure count. In just the second minute of the game, a lovely team move involving Michael Doughty, the returning Junior Morias, and Marcus Maddison, resulted in the latter striking home from 20 yards with a dipping, bouncing strike, beating the Iron’s keeper Matt Gilks in his bottom right corner. For that third of the half, Posh pressed harder and harder, but couldn’t find a second, which would have been just reward for their quality and intensity in the opening stages. True to form, though, an impressive Scunny side made their way back into the game, and they proceeded to control until added on time in the first half.
Posh continued with the 3-5-2 formation that served them well until Saturday’s late heartbreak at Gillingham, with Morias and Maddison replacing Omar Bogle and the unfortunate Danny Lloyd. It suited them well initially here too, but Scunthorpe wised up to the threats posed by Joe Ward, Liam Shephard and Maddison, and began dominating an increasingly stretched middle of the park. The space that had allowed Doughty to start the game so well started to close, and a chasm began to develop as Scunthorpe wrestled back control.
It took the visitors 34 minutes to get back in the game, but it had been coming. Ivan Toney – previously been denied by Jonathan Bond – made his next attempt count. The Newcastle-loanee beat Ryan Tafazolli to finish powerfully past the Posh keeper, after latching on to a precise Josh Morris pass. Whether Morris should have still been on the pitch at the point is a bone of contention. Five minutes into the contest, he lunged rashly at Maddison, taking none of the ball and all of the man. He somehow escaped without a booking. Some 15 minutes later, he tripped Anthony Grant in an effort to halt another quick Posh break and finally received his deserved yellow. It was the second time this season that Posh had arguably been denied facing a 10 man Scunthorpe.
Toney continued to terrify the Posh defence. He once again beat Tafazolli in the air, but this time the ball looped onto the bar instead of hitting the net. The visitors headed towards the break looking the side most likely to go in front, but in the final two minutes of added time at the end of the first half, it was Posh who took the advantage. A strong run down the left from Ward took him to the by-line where he crossed to Morias on the six-yard box. The strike wasn’t clean but it nestled into the bottom corner as the referee drew a close to what was an entertaining first half encounter.
Many fans expected changes at the break to shore up the Posh midfield, with a tactical switch to 4-4-2 looking the most obvious. As it was, the management decided to persist with the use of wing-backs, which would again ultimately cost us. Once again, Posh put their visitors to the sword in the opening exchanges, and Marriott, who was enduring another frustrating 90 minutes, forced Gilks into a good save low to his right.
That, however, was pretty much the highlight from Posh in the second half, aside from a speculative Maddison effort at the death, as the visitors awoke from their slumber to once again assert control. Following a few close efforts via Josh Morris’s left boot from set pieces, Scunthorpe’s pressure finally told and it was a familiar comedy of errors from the home side. After Anthony Grant had taken out referee, Trevor Kettle, Scunny’s classy left-back Conor Townsend attacked Posh’s right-flank. After easily beating Shepherd and by-passing Steven Taylor’s pathetic attempt at jockeying (maybe he can take a few tips from Frankie Dettori’s after dinner speech at London Road in a few weeks’ time), Townsend cut the ball back to penalty spot. Ivan Toney was waiting and duly delivered an air shot (he will no doubt claim it was an intentional nutmeg) but on hand behind him was the waiting Ryan Yates, who struck the ball home despite Bond’s best efforts.
With 15 minutes remaining, McCann finally saw what the other 4,400 were watching and switched to 4-4-2. Andrew Hughes replaced the sponsor’s Man of the Match, Joe Ward (because we make substitutions based on GPS measurements), while Jack Baldwin – arguably the pick of the centre backs – was replaced with Danny Lloyd. Hughes provided Posh with more urgency, taking up where Ward had left off, and his short cameo saw a corner, won through his persistence, headed wide by Tafazolli, and a mishit cross clip the top of the bar. Lloyd on the other hand probably topped the GPS stats with his running but made little difference.
As we entered the final five minutes of time added (Da Silva Lopes made his customary appearance off the bench) the familiar feeling of déjà vu waved over the ground. Minutes earlier Maddison’s curling effort was pushed wide by Gilks, and instead of the (very) poor officials awarding us a corner, when the ball must have been a good three yards out of play, Scunny burst up the other end and almost won it. Cameron McGeehan turned on the edge of the box and arrowed a shot towards goal. If it wasn’t for Bond’s reflexes Posh would have faced a seventh home league defeat.
As it was Posh held on for a point. A point that leaves us five points outside the top six, a point that sees us drop a place to 10th, and a point that sees Plymouth – bottom in December – surge above us in the table. Posh love to spin the stats to show all is rosy in the garden, but that is now just six wins in 21 league games. But let us be reminded: we are close to having a “very good side”.