The sun was shining, the overpriced lager was flowing from Posh’s new fanzone bar, and a match that was going to have huge implications at both ends of the table was being played out in North Cambridgeshire. Could Peterborough United’s unlikely play off charge limp on? Could it fuck.
Steve Evans elected to FINALLY set up with a flat 4-4-2, with Junior Morias partnering Jack Marriott and Lewis Freestone replacing suspended Steven Taylor in the eleven, allowing Andrew Hughes to tuck inside to centre back. The immediate elephant in the room was the sartorial disaster in the dug outs; the much maligned Steve Evans elected for a Tim Sherwood style gilet, whilst Keith Hill dressed like a man who spends his weekends taking his children Hugo and Jemima to National Trust properties equipped with his black labrador and rugby ball.
Posh had the best of the opening exchanges, as League One’s top marksman Jack Marriott acrobatically threw himself at a looping ball, which was blocked with the hint of a hand by the Rochdale back line; the referee wasn’t interested and waved play on. Boro’ kept pushing in the opening minutes, as Gwion Edwards and George Cooper both put decent looking crosses into the Dale area, that were totally missed by their teammates, in a worrying trend that carried on all afternoon. A few industrial challenges by a solid Rochdale side were completely ignored by the man with the whistle, Anthony Coggins, to the fury of the majority of London Road. Some were angrier than others, and inevitably Posh’s manager received his ‘final warning’ inside 8 minutes, which is surely a record for him.
Despite the visitors having very little of the ball to begin with, the inevitable happened: Forrester and Edwards overcomplicated things by their own corner flag, conceded possession and allowed Callum Camps to cross (you could say the Rochdale pressure was, ahem, in tents). Despite several chances for Posh to clear, Ian Henderson somehow kept the ball in play and fired it into the roof of the London Road net following a save by O’Malley. 1-0 Rochdale. That initial stop was only the second time that the Irish custodian touched the ball inside the opening quarter of an hour; unfortunately, it took him even longer to get a third, as he dallied in claiming an aerial ball which was nearly turned in by Oliver Rathbone, and was tardy again when he allowed Mark Kitching to steal the ball from him at the side of the area. Jonathan Bond looked on, and has every right to feel frustrated if he doesn’t return to the starting line up soon.
We had very few opportunities to get back into the match during the opening 45 minutes, as Cooper and Morias both sent shots wide of Josh Lillis’ right hand post in the only chances of note. We had to talk about him eventually, but you could say that referee Coggins had a funny old match. You could also say he was completely bloody hopeless. Reckless challenge after reckless challenge went unpunished for both sides by the man in blac- urrmmmm, purple- and both sets of coaching staff voiced their displeasure at this. Jack Baldwin flew into plenty of his trademark lunges, whilst Calvin Andrew was rather robust upfront. Somehow, both escaped without yellow cards during the first half, although Rochdale’s Callum Camps was inexplicably booked for an innocuous trip in Posh’s half. The only other yellow shown before 4pm was to Dale’s Mark Kitching for simulation, and he was perhaps lucky to not depart for half time early when he appeared to commit yet another dive in injury time. Mr Coggins didn’t see it like that, and the only thing he blew for was half time in a dismal showing of football. It could only get better, surely?
No, it couldn’t. Posh’s first half problems were clear for all to see: their ‘wide’ men were generally closer to the centre circle than touchlines and the central midfielders of Leo Da Silva Lopes and Chris Forrester were in a word: shit. Incredibly, none of these issues were addressed in the changing room, and Posh continued with their tepid, disjointed display. It took a good 10 minutes for the home side to create a half-chance, as Junior Morias fizzed a low ball across the face goal, which was unfortunately beyond the studs of Lewis Freestone. Young Freestone was making his second appearance under Steve Evans, and it was a second horror show for Lewis in the past month, as he looked like a boy playing a man’s game.
Gwion Edwards was generally impressive all match, and as he embarked on his umpteenth run of the afternoon, he had one thing on his mind: get bloody forward. Unfortunately, Ian Henderson appeared to only have one thing on his mind too: break his bloody legs. The Dale winger appeared to be making a crap remake of Benny Hill when chasing Edwards, and after a sprint over 30 yards, Henderson hacked down Posh’s Welsh winger from behind. I’m not exaggerating when I say it is one of the worst tackles I’ve ever seen at London Road; the main question in the aftermath of the lunge wasn’t if it was a red card, only ‘should it warrant jail time?’. The visitors were down to 10 men, and Evans took the bull by the horns and introduced Joe Ward for the shaky Freestone. Posh needed to get back into the contest, and almost did when Jack Baldwin flicked the ball goalwards from the resultant free kick, which was met by the visiting goalkeeper Josh Lillis.
Posh continued to pile on the pressure, as headers from Gwion Edwards and then Andrew Hughes were saved and put wide respectively. Sub Joe Ward started brightly, with a whipped ball grazing the forehead of Jack Marriott, before it all went south for the former Brighton man: having one shot clear the London Road End is an honest mistake anybody can make (just ask Trevor Benjamin), but when TWO efforts end up in the KFC car park, you really ought to consider if you’re in the right profession. Ward had a torrid 30 minutes, and worryingly, he wasn’t alone. In the definition of juxtaposition, Keith Hill looked to shore up his side by introducing… Kgosi Ntlhe. Worryingly, Posh’s former fullback took up a central midfield role, and was made to look like Franz Beckenbauer by the invisible home midfield.
Posh continued to create (half) chances, as Jack Baldwin had an optimistic appeal for a penalty turned down and Gwion Edwards sent two shots wide of the mark. This was a cue for Posh to make their second change, with Danny Lloyd coming on for Morias to play… actually, I’m not sure what position he was playing in. Lloyd nearly made an instant impact, as his powerful shot was palmed into the path of Gwion Edwards, who was denied the equaliser by the raised offside flag. In spite of this pressure, all structure had melted away from the home team, as the performances descended into a series of hopeful punts forwards. Rochdale-despite their numerical disadvantage- looked threatening on the break, and could have doubled their lead on two occasions, as Joe Thompson was denied when one-on-one with O’Malley, and Calvin Andrew clipped Posh’s bar.
Steve Evans-who was staring at the prospect of his first home defeat as Posh manager- got desperate. Incredibly, he withdrew the impressive Edwards for Idris Kanu, causing boos to echo around London Road in response. Unsurprisingly, the youngster made naff all difference, and to quote my eloquent father, ‘we may as well bring on a fucking tugboat instead of a Kanu’, and he was correct. The ex-Aldershot teenager performed his typical headless chicken routine, and it became clear Posh had no idea what they were doing. Although Dale had one man fewer, it certainly didn’t look like that was the case: somehow, every single Posh ball into the box found Calvin Andrew, who was offering light relief to his defenders, and almost mechanically headed every single cross clear. In fairness to us, Andrew is only 6’3, so quite difficult to spot. Jack Marriott almost nicked an improbable equaliser deep into injury time, but Andrew turned his fierce effort around the post. Conor O’Malley was sent forward for the resultant corner in the hope of becoming an unlikely hero. Typically, the cross into the box was overhit, and the Irishman couldn’t impersonate Jimmy Glass; instead, the referee’s whistle brought proceedings to an end, and all but shattered Posh’s play off hopes.
An embarrassing afternoon for Peterborough United, who looked devoid of all ideas, and further highlighted their dependency on Marcus Maddison, who watched the shambles unfold whilst nursing his injured ankle. If I hadn’t been wearing my contact lenses, I would have thought Grant McCann had been sat on the Posh bench, given the confusing tactics and substitutions. Whether these are his players or not, Evans made some in game decisions that were as unforgivable as they were confusing. This is not what we were expecting when he was appointed 6 weeks ago. The result means Posh have collected 5 points from the past 18 available, which is the form of a team fighting relegation, rather than one battling to make the play offs. Any doubts that a major clear out will be happening this summer have been all but expelled, as Posh now look certain to be preparing for another season in the third tier.