Posh came into this encounter with Bristol’s second team off the back of Steve Evans’ first defeat as manager of the club he ‘supports’. To maintain their unlikely play off push, Posh knew they had to take 3 points from opponents who are destined to mid-table obscurity. In an attempt to get back to winning ways, Evans made 6 changes, including Junior Morias making his first start of the new regime, Anthony Grant returning from the cold, and most notably, Conor O’Malley, taking the place of Jonathan Bond in goal, as Posh returned to a conventional 4-4-2.
Prior to kick off, London Road legend Steve Welsh was inducted into the club’s hall of fame. It’s a shame the Glaswegian didn’t bring his boots, as within 5 minutes of kick off, Ryan Tafazolli pulled up after barely touching the ball. The man who can lay serious claim to being the best looking centre back in history was forced off with a re-occurrence of the groin injury that had kept him out for nearly a month, forcing Andrew Hughes to centre back as Lewis Freestone (Posh’s only defensive option on the bench) entered the fray. The young left back looked assured at times and shaky at others, but Rovers failed to expose the inexperienced Kings Lynn native.
The right hand side appeared to be profitable for the home team; Liam Shephard’s crosses were causing confusion amongst the Bristol Rovers back line. The most confused being goalkeeper Sam Slocombe; the former Scunthorpe keeper flapped at and missed plenty of balls played across the 18 yard box, and was the total opposite of a calming presence between the sticks. One man who didn’t share the success of Shephard was right winger Marcus Maddison. The Geordie consistently made the wrong decisions and executed the correct ones poorly, to the fury of his manager. Speaking of Evans, he has moved away from the coach driver look, bizarrely choosing a training top and suit trouser combo.
There was some very stylish football played in the middle third of the pitch, and whilst the Posh back 4 had little to think about, Rovers created an obscene amount of work for themselves with at least 3 soft passes that went straight to the feet of Jack Marriott. Unfortunately for us, the only real chances came in the form of a Danny Lloyd whipped free kick just wide of the post, and Junior Morias being stopped by the lucky Slocombe after a delightful ball through by Maddison. As Posh grew into the game, Rovers had a tactical reshuffle, as the gingerest man in the West Country Rory Gaffney replaced wingback Marc Bola (no relation to his namesake ‘E’). Bola didn’t react well to this, shouting “What a farcical decision, I strongly disagree with this substitution”… Or words to that effect. This was the cue for Maddison to really come into his own, and he was unlucky to see his swerving shot palmed wide by Slocombe. Anthony Grant had impressed on his return to the side, but bizarrely picked up a yellow card after a long delay. My interpretation was that he was warned for a cynical foul, then given a final warning for dissent before the yellow card was finally shown to the Chelsea youth product for the heinous crime of… Being pushed by the referee.
Half time came and went, and the Gas started with their tails up. Posh couldn’t deal with a Rovers corner and defender Tony Craig sent a fierce bicycle kick over the bar, which was a warning for what was about to come. Andrew Hughes conceded a free kick on the corner of his own penalty area. The dead ball was sent to the far post, and with O’Malley nowhere near dominant enough and Anthony Grant being too tardy in making a clearance, the ball went loose in the area. Veteran Craig was the quickest to react, and slammed The Pirates into the lead. Bollocks.
It nearly went from bad to worse for Posh, as Liam Shephard was forced to hack a ball from his own goal line. However, the resultant break was fruitful for the home team: Marcus Maddison’s curved cross was chested down by Junior Morias into the path of Danny Lloyd, who rifled the ball home to restore parity. The London Road End was rocking and the wind appeared to be well and truly in Posh’s sails: Marriott saw his low shot deflected wide and Chris Forrester got a fierce shot away after good work by Morias, which was stopped in a rather unorthodox manner by the laughably bad Slocombe.
Posh continued to apply pressure, and despite Morias hitting the post from a Danny Lloyd cross and Marcus Maddison desperately attempting to win a penalty, the visitors held on. However, all the momentum that we had built up was soon dissipated with the introduction of Omar Bogle. The Cardiff loanee failed to influence the game in any way, shape or form, and only succeeded in tackling his team mate Anthony Grant and acquainting his rear end with the London Road turf. Rovers weren’t giving up without a fight, as midfielders Liam Sercombe and Ollie Clarke both went close to stealing an unlikely victory.
Both sides had one last throw of the dice: George Cooper came on for Boro, whilst Tom ‘Arsehole’ Nichols received a genuinely frosty reception as he made a return to the Fens. Cooper could have won it late on, but failed to unleash a shot at the Gas goal following tidy footwork by Maddison. The visitors had their own half-chance to snatch a win late on… Fortunately for us, it was Timid Tom Nichols who attempted to win a loose ball ahead of O’Malley, and the much maligned former Posh man predictably bottled this chase. And that was that, Posh 1, Bristol Rovers 1.
Despite the less impressive result, Posh arguably put in a better performance than they managed against Charlton 14 days earlier and probably deserved the win. It was definitely 2 points dropped in Posh’s hunt for 6th place, and the very dim light of Championship football at the end of the very long tunnel edged slightly further away for Posh. A massive match against Rotherham on Good Friday could finally crucify Posh’s promotion chances, or an Easter Monday derby against Northampton may help resurrect the push. Either way, a massive 9 days are ahead for us, and whilst a point against Rovers isn’t a bad starting point, it isn’t a great one either.