Posh came into their final home fixture of the 2017-18 campaign knowing for the first time this season that promotion was a mathematical impossibility. In what was a rather poetic metaphor, the skies were grey, the ground was damp and the inflatable fan area was flat by the time I arrived at London Road. Fleetwood were the opponents for this dead rubber.
Steve Evans reverted to a flat back 4, with the most notable returning players being Jack Marriott and Marcus Maddison, unquestionably the only two real contenders for the player of the season award, probably making their last appearances at London Road in a Posh shirt. It must be worth noting this is the eleventh unique line up Evans has selected in his tenure. He has been in charge for eleven matches. From the minute Graham Horwood blew his whistle, it was evident this game of football was a complete waste of everybody’s time; there was no atmosphere, no commitment, and quite frankly, no point
I’m struggling to squeeze blood out of this particular stone of a first half, but this is the best I can do. Maddison cleverly fed Marriott who was denied by the legs of visiting keeper Chris Neal, before Marriott nearly turned provider, flicking a hopeful long ball into the path of George Cooper, but the former Crewe man could only get the weakest of shots away having cut inside. It was a half where only the two defences deserved credit; Steve Taylor was solid and Jack Baldwin looked uncharacteristically competent at the heart of the Posh defence. Meanwhile, Ashley Eastham shone for Fleetwood, dominating in the air and displaying class on the ball. His defensive partner was the iconic skipper Nathan Pond. The 6’4 Fleetwood man has made over 400 appearances (mainly in non-league) for The Cod Army: you could say he is *ahem* a big Pond in a small fish.
Posh rattled the crossbar twice in the opening 45. Anthony Grant-undeniably the man of the match- fired a left footed effort onto the woodwork to nearly break his Posh duck, before Andrew Hughes’ looping header clipped the bar as half time drew near. Fleetwood had a golden opportunity to take the lead when Jack Baldwin allowed a cross to make its way into the box; Ashley Hunter knocked the ball down to Paddy Madden, who incredibly sidefooted high and wide. Nobody was expecting a classic in PE2 today, it was an end of term piss about at the end of the day; you know, when the teacher lets you bring in a board game. Unfortunately, Steve Evans and John Sheridan didn’t bring good ones like Kerplunk and Operation, but Solitaire and Mastermind were the choices for today. Speaking of Sheridan, he was taking charge of his penultimate Fleetwood match, with Joey Barton set to replace him in 6 weeks time, a rather unfair reward for ensuring the Cod Army avoided relegation this season.
Clearly half time woke the home side up. Within minutes of the restart, Jack Marriott reacted ahead of the Fleetwood defence to latch onto an attacking header and produce a trademark lob over Neal. 1-0 Posh, 27 goals for the season for Marriott. Posh kept pressing, George Cooper attempted an audacious chip over the Fleetwood stopper, before Gwion Edwards smashed an incredible swerving attempt goalwards. Neal made a real meal of it, pushing the ball onto the bar. Sheridan introduced Jordi Hiwula at this point to try and salvage something.
It wasn’t plain sailing for the home team. Liam Shephard and Jack Baldwin were beaten too easily out wide and his whipped cross caused havoc in the penalty area. Jonathan Bond-who had had naff all to do up to this point-dropped the cross and needed Anthony Grant to bail him out. It was at this point that Steve Evans (who was curiously subdued all afternoon) opted to make a change, withdrawing Marcus Maddison for Danny Lloyd. Despite accusations of a poor attitude, cheating and petulance, the Geordie winger rightfully received a standing ovation for his contribution to the club over his 4 year spell.
In spite of continuous Cod pressure, the only chances the visitors carved out were long range efforts for Jonathan Bond to palm away. Posh weren’t prepared to rest on their laurels as they launched plenty of counter attacks. They were rewarded for this attacking outlook: Danny Lloyd volleyed a delicious cross across the face of goal, which was swept in with ease by George Cooper. It was an incredibly classy goal to finish off an otherwise forgettable season.
Fleetwood searched desperately for a consolation. Jordi Hiwula remarkably poked a cross inches wide of Bond’s left hand post and the visiting rabble of brave and/or stupid Fleetwood fans thought he had put the ball in the back of the net. He had not. As the seconds ticked by, Evans and Raynor elected to give Jack Marriott the ovation he deserved. There was not a single arse on plastic as the top-knotted hitman jogged off the London Road turf for inevitably the last time, depressingly to be replaced by Idris Kanu. Young Idris managed to have a negligible impact on the contest, fouling Cian Bolger-a spitting image of England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow- as the referee blew for full time.
And that, as they say, was that. Posh were not exciting, but they were functional in winning 3 points. This was only our sixth home clean sheet of the season, as Fleetwood became only the third team to be doubled by Posh this campaign. It was an afternoon to forget in a season to forget. This was probably the last time Posh fans will see a lot of the players as Steve Evans prepares to bulldoze the squad and start afresh for next year. And truth be told, not many will be missed.
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