On a sun kissed August afternoon, The Hatters of Luton Town arrived in The Fens attempting to halt a Peterborough United side that started the day with a perfect league record, and in turn pick up their first victory since promotion from League 2. Could they upstage the home side? Of course they couldn’t, you’ve read the headline and know what’s coming. Here’s what happened…
Steve Evans reverted back to the side that comfortably dealt with Rochdale seven days ago, following a cup humbling by the 2019-20 League One title favourites QPR in the week. There was a notable addition to the squad in the shape of Marcus Maddison, returned to the club from a tattoo-fuelled exile and supposedly ready to play a part again. Whilst usually at the centre of attention, the Geordie will play no further part in this report, as he was consigned to the bench. Anyhow, onto the small matter of Posh’s second home match of the campaign. The typically intense start was employed by Evans, and whilst Luton attempted a neat passing game, Matt Godden and Jason Cummings pressed hard and forced errors aplenty; the main source of which was visiting defender Matty Pearson, whose attempts to trap and pass the ball were largely interchangeable.
Luton had the lion’s share of early possession, and as they looked to launch an attack, Rhys Bennett blatantly shoved James Collins to the ground. Somehow, referee Graham Salisbury didn’t stop play, and allowed Bennett to launch the ball forward to Godden; the ex-Stevenage man weighted a perfect ball to Jason Cummings, who was one on one with the goalkeeper. Before the Forest loanee could get a shot away, however, he was pulled back by Sonny Bradley. After a long old delay, Salisbury finally pointed to the spot; incredibly, Bradley not only escaped a red card, he evaded a yellow too, to the anger of Paul Raynor and Steve Evans. Jason Cummings provided enough of a punishment though, sending Marek Stech the wrong way to make it 1-0 to Posh.
And moments later, it was two. Joe Ward looked unusually good yesterday, and played a delightful ball to Siriki Dembele. The rapid winger drove at the Luton defence, and was brought down inside the penalty area; whilst some eyes at London Road were surely on the referee in the expectation of a second penalty kick being awarded, they were misguided… Dembele leapt to his feet, chased onto the loose ball and crisply struck a shot into the roof of the net with his weaker left foot. Not only did the Luton defence have a good 5 yard head start on the young winger, but Dembele actually started the footrace on his backside, underlining his incredible pace. The Hatters pushed hard to get back into the contest, but given their best idea of the first half was attempting to lob 6’8″ goalkeeper Aaron Chapman, it was somewhat futile.
Luton continued to boss possession, but we looked generally solid against the 1988 Zenith Data Systems Cup runners-up. There was a moment of panic around PE2 when Danny Hylton caught Aaron Chapman, causing him to go down in pain; none were more panicked than Posh’s 41 year-old substitute keeper/coach Mark Tyler, who to say didn’t fancy adding to his 400-odd Posh appearances was an understatement. The visitors changed to a 3-5-2 and continued to see plenty of the ball, which achieved nothing but a handful of Luton town corners; one of which was seemingly stopped by a Posh hand inside the 6-yard box. Salisbury was unmoved, and allowed a Boro’ breakaway to take off once more, through the electric pace of Dembele. One reasonable criticism of the new Posh number 10 is a tendency to overcomplicate matters, and groans echoed around The ABAX when former Mariner Dembele ‘chopped’ inside towards onrushing defenders rather than accelerate towards goal. Fellow Scotsman Jason Cummings helped justify Dembele’s choice, when he wrong footed Marek Stech and rolled the ball past him to make it 3-0, following young Siriki’s assist. Piece of piss.
The first half ended in controversy, mind. Luton’s Jack Stacey looked threatening all afternoon, and the winger drove into the penalty area, jockeyed by Colin Daniel. Like a bloody great wally, Daniel flew into an unnecessary tackle to concede what looked like a stonewall penalty (DISCLAIMER: stonewall from my angle). Salisbury duly pointed to the penalty spot to hand The Hatters a lifeline. Incredibly, after a 2018 World Cup-esque consultation with fellow officials, the man in black overruled himself and gave a corner, as the assistant felt that Daniel had won the ball fair and square. The visiting manager Nathan Jones, a devout Christian, was even more angry and upset than Jesus was that time when his dad invited him home for Easter.
The action packed opening 45 ended with Posh 3 goals to the good with a clean sheet intact, the latter somewhat flattered us, given Luton’s quality on the ball. Disappointingly, the hopeless Matt Pearson was withdrawn for Andrew Shinnie (fittingly, a “shinnie” is the best way to describe Pearson’s technique of controlling a football) as the away side looked to change their fortunes. And credit where it’s due, they nearly did… albeit by nearly helping a 3 goal deficit become 4 within seconds of the restart: neat play between Posh’s two strikers led to Matt Godden forcing Stech to make a good save from a sweet volley, as he stood strong behind his off guard defence.
It’s become quite clear that Evans’ modus operandi on a matchday is to pummel an opposition early on, and hold onto what we have for long periods of time. It may not be pretty, but it has generally been effective, yet on this occasion these methods faced a stern test. Mark O’Hara was perhaps fortunate to evade a red card for a terrible lunge on 50 minutes, and the resulting free kick finished up in a Motorpoint stand packed with Luton fans following pin ball inside the box. Nathan Jones’ side continued to see the ball, and they came across rather like we did last season: nice passing, good possession but no end product to make this match into a serious contest.
Danny Hylton (a man linked with a move to Peterborough United consistently for about a decade) and James Collins (not of Welsh international football fame, but pissing into a pint glass at Cheltenham festival infamy) both gave Posh’s backline food for thought, and Ryan Tafazolli looked surprisingly shaky, taking too many touches in risky areas on far too many occasions, although he escaped without punishment. Chances to make it 4-0 were few and far between after the break, although one of the best came from our best passing move of the game: a delicious Joe Ward cross just missed the head of Mark O’Hara, as the young Scot’s goal drought in the league worryingly extended to one game.
Posh were tiring, both physically and mentally, and the coaching staff recognised the need to refresh the eleven, introducing Louis Reed and Ivan Toney to offer something different, although neither got a real foothold in the game. Danny Hylton planted a firm header straight into the arms of man mountain Aaron Chapman as a clean sheet looked to be edging its way to London Road. ‘Looked to’ being the crucial phrase. Alan Sheehan, who according to Wikipedia played for us 3 years ago (don’t worry, he passed me by too) whipped a ball to the far post for Hylton to convert from a tight angle, making it 3-1 to Luton and setting up a very nervy final 10 minutes.
Considering we were on course for a comfortable victory, it was rather concerning how stretched we were. Chapman was glued to his line as the full time whistle neared, and had it not been for a superb Tafazolli block, Sonny Bradley would have headed in a second Luton goal. The wind was well and truly in the Hatters’ sails, and Steve Evans demonstrated a shrewd piece of game management by bringing off man-of-the-match Dembele (who was invisible for the second half) for George Cooper who ‘forgot to put his shinpads on’. Now, professional footballers don’t have a lot to remember, and forgetting such a fundamental piece of equipment is akin to a fireman arriving to a blaze without his hose, so I’m fairly convinced he was sent on with bare legs safe in the knowledge that play would be stopped for Cooper to sort his legs out.
5 minutes of injury time flashed up on the fourth official’s board, and despite Luton’s 57% possession and 21 shots, it was Posh who almost had the last name on the scoresheet. Toney was making his home debut, and whilst his off the ball work and intense closing down was way off the level that Matthew Godden had set, he appeared to have something about him as he skipped through the Luton defence, won himself a corner and powered a header from the resulting set piece at Stech, who stopped the effort on the line, unfortunately for home debutant Toney. Luton’s big push began to fizzle out; they’d peaked too early. As the seconds ebbed away and a defeat was all but confirmed, swathes of Hatters fans rushed from London Road quicker than that time an EDL group found out that the Subway they were buying their lunch from only stocked Halal chicken. Graham Salisbury called time on a game of two halves, and Posh maintained a perfect league record to propel themselves to top of the league.
So, not a perfect day- a rather dull yet functional second half overshadowed an exhilarating first- but taking 3 points from a Luton side who’ll be there or thereabouts come May 2019 is nothing to be sniffed at. On a different day, we could quite easily have thrown away the three points, but crucially, we didn’t. If Evans wants to consistently continue ‘winning’ games inside half an hour, followed by an hour of not losing them, a slightly more assured defensive display would be desirable when inviting pressure on. Or perhaps we don’t need to, and I’ve just been watching Peterborough United throw away leads for far too long.
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