Corrr blimey, is it proper football time already? You’d be forgiven for assuming you’d slipped into a coma during the close-season and have woken up several years later; but fear not, it has been only twelve weeks since Peterborough United last played a competitive match. And assuming you were conscious for the majority of that time, you’ll probably know that Steve Evans has made a metric shitload of changes to his squad, leaving intact only a handful of last year’s personnel to complement the influx of new signings. The new look Posh side faced their first ever test on a sweltering afternoon against Bristol’s 3rd team (after Bristol City and Bristol City Women) as The Pirates sailed into town.
The new look, humungous Posh eleven featured 9 debutants, with the only familiar faces being Ryan Tafazolli and Joe Ward. Incredibly, Posh’s new kitman Trevor Quow has made 99 more appearances for the club than the entire 18 man squad had today. There were an awful lot of glances at teamsheets all around London Road throughout the afternoon, let me tell you.
There was pressure on all new recruits to show why they were brought to the club, and within a couple of minutes of kick off, a trio combined to do exactly that. Colin *Checks notes* Daniel latched onto a loose ball, fizzing it forward to Matt Godden. The latter laid a perfect ball back to… Urmmmm… Jason Naismith, who clipped a fantastic cross onto the forehead of Godden. The ex-Stevenage man planted a header into the ground, and after what felt like an age for the ball to cross the line, Posh had the lead, and looked comfortable in the opening stages, as Dembele and Godden had snap shots that were weak and easily dealt with by Sam Slocombe in goal.
However, it wasn’t the smoothest of rides for Posh, as Rhys Bennett looked to have picked up a touch of Jack Baldwinitis, giving the ball away on more than one occasion, Alex Woodyard was sloppy in possession and the only Rovers chance of note came from a familiar face. Mark O’Hara was beaten to a bouncing ball and timid Tom Nichols bared down on the Posh goal; fortunately, the finish was soft into the palms of Aaron Chapman. Lads, it’s Tom Nichols. What did you expect?
Despite the odd scare, Posh had doubled their lead within half an hour. Left back Colin Daniel put in a delicious cross that was glanced into the top corner by fellow debutant O’Hara, as Posh sauntered to top of the ‘LEAGUE ONE: AS IT STANDS TABLE’. Daniel, the man who created that goal, impressed all afternoon; The Fenland faithful will surely be saying “ANDREW WHO?”rather than “Andrew Hoooooooooos”, the popular, now departed full back. Despite being firmly in the driving seat, manager Steve Evans wasn’t happy, berating referee John Busby for any decision that he had he audacity to award in favour of Bristol Rovers. On one of the hottest days of the year, Evans had a look that won’t lead him to a catwalk any time soon; as well as wearing trousers that clearly needed taking up 3 inches, the Glaswegian was sweating more than a 1970’s DJ who’s just realised he didn’t have private browsing turned on in his web browser.
Half time came and went, and sadly, Posh looked a different side. A mad scramble saw a combination skipper Woodyard and his deputy Jason Naismith usher a loose ball out of play, as Evans and Raynor got more and more flustered. Their touchline rage couldn’t counter the oncoming Bristol storm, as Alex Rodman forced a fine save from Chapman, in spite of a raised offside flag. Rovers looked to turn the screw, as they shoved on Bernard Mensah in place of Tom Nichols; it takes a special, special effort to get stick from both sets of supporters. Whilst there were universal boos in the home crowd, the away section broke out into a fine rendition of the terrace favourite “duh duh duh DUH, fucking useless”, which actually made me feel a bit sorry for our old boy.
Evans looked to conserve this lead and flood the middle third of the pitch, withdrawing Jason Cummings for central midfielder Callum Cooke. Teesider Cooke was forced onto the wing, with tricky winger Dembele shifted inside. This was the result of Posh having limited options out wide, as Isaac Buckley-Ricketts and Marcus Maddison were excluded from the match day squad (both were at the match today, and the latter was dressed as a juvenile delinquent). Cooke showed some neat touches, but it was quite clear he wasn’t suited to the wide role. The Gas continued pressing, as substitute Mensah was presented with a good opportunity to test Chapman, but his header drifted wide of the far post, as the worrying trend of Bristol Rovers having chances and not forcing any of them on target continued.
As the final stages approached, Evans continued to refresh his team; Louis Reed and Mat Stevens entered the fray in place of Godden and Dembele, as incredibly Joe Ward was forced to play the whole 90 minutes. This isn’t a criticism of Ward; Posh’s 4th longest serving player looks to have come on leaps and bounds since arriving from Woking 7 months ago, but the winger was blowing out of his arse for the final half an hour. Curiously, the home management team elected to switch the roles of Cooke and O’Hara as the minutes ticked by, adding an unnecessary element of confusion for the hosts.
Rovers pressed for the entirety of the second half, and despite registering sixteen shots to Posh’s six in 89 minutes, the score remained at 2-0. Debutant Chapman was heading towards his first clean sheet at London Road, and he helped this cause with a stunning one handed save from Mensah. The only issue was that the rebound fell to Tom Lockyer, who made it 2-1 and set up a nervy final 3 minutes for us all. The pressure was relentless, and despite all their new personnel, it looked very much like same old same old for Posh, as they were clinging onto their lead for dear life. Sam Matthews rinsed Jason Naismith as The Gas pushed for a late equaliser, but centre backs Bennett qnd Tafazolli looked assured when clearing away opposition crosses. Mercifully, the final whistle sounded as Posh were looking stretched to the limit.
3 points are 3 points. It was a decent start for Evans’ new men, but the match was solely won in the first half by Posh, as their performance level dropped from very good to adequate (just) in the second 45. I should have been gushing at a strong performance over 90 minutes in this report, but instead I’ve been reflecting on how lucky we were to come away with maximum points. There were good signs, but Posh need to make marked improvements if they want 3 points to become the norm this year.
Do you disagree with James’ take on the season opener? Has he been too harsh, or did we flatter to deceive at times? Have your say on the oldest and best (in our humble opinion) Posh forum in the world.
James Bloodworth (jwb1997)
Find James on twitter @jamesb17_