Peterborough United, coming off the back of a perfect August, faced a Doncaster Rovers side managed by a former Posh manager, desperate to get one over his former employers. We’ve never heard a narrative like that one before!!!! As the home side looked to extend their stunning start to the campaign to six wins from six, dot net’s own James Bloodworth followed the action at London Road.
Unsurprisingly, Posh elected to keep the lineup that had seen them through all five matches of their record-breaking winning streak, as an eleven that was unfamiliar to most fans just four weeks ago had begun to grow in those supporters’ hearts and minds. We of course knew how Evans’ men would try to go about playing: blitz the opposition from minute one, build a lead and then consolidate at all costs. ‘Try’, is of course the critical word in that sentence. It was clear Grant McCann (a man who to this day is the recipient of snide, classless remarks from Steve Evans) knew this was exactly how his successor would go about getting the upper hand, and decided to fight fire with fire by pressuring the Posh defence hard from minute one. James Coppinger seems to have been at Donny since time began, and his stinging shot was blocked by Rhys Bennett within seconds of kick off, before further speculative efforts by Ben Whiteman and former Posh hero Tommy Rowe were either wayward or stopped by Peterborough United bodies.
Now, this might come as a shock to some of you readers, but Grant McCann only went and played a bloody diamond! Quelle Surprise! The difference between his time in the London Road hot seat and his new team’s set up is that the midfield was fluid, their passing was meaningful and Rovers’ possession actually led to chances. In other words, it wasn’t as shit as it was when he tried it with us.
Possession was bossed by the visitors in the opening moments, with Our strikers Jason Cummings and Matt Godden feeding on scraps; the same can’t be said for their counterparts John Marquis and Mallik Wilkes, who looked a threatening pair. Wilkes in particular shone, as despite an early (ridiculously bad) toe poke, he consistently peeled away from his marker and stretched our defence at every opportunity. Wilkes somehow didn’t give Donny the lead after latching onto a Herbie Kane cross (which came about following poor tracking by Dembele); Aaron Chapman was down low to palm the low shot wide. Just. Arseholes around London Road started to tighten, as it became clear that this was going to be no walk in the park.
Posh had the odd opportunity to steal a first half lead; notably Cummings’ lob of goalkeeper Marko Marosi from the best part of 35 yards fell short after the aforementioned scuffed a clearance away, and Matty Godden drilled an effort wide after neat play from Dembele. Yet again, Rovers looked more likely to break the deadlock, as Rowe’s long range shot was spilled by Chapman and trickled goal bound, before the offside flag prevented John Marquis from finishing the move. Jason Cummings could have given his team an unlikely lead when he was played through one on one… Only for play to be pulled back by referee Darren Bond for a foul on Siriki Dembele a long old way from goal. Assistant manager Paul Raynor was so incensed by this judgement that he earned his first yellow card of the season. And the day…
Then, the inevitable happened. One part luck, one part skill saw John Marquis flick the ball into space, leaving himself one on one with Aaron Chapman, before deftly lobbing the former Accrington man. It was the first time that Posh have fallen behind at London Road since April, and truth be told it should have happened sooner. Rovers almost doubled their lead on the stroke of half time: Marquis’ powerful header found the back of the net, but Posh’s summer transfer target was deemed to have committed a foul in the build up. Half time: Posh 0, Donny 1. We were lucky to have nil truth be told.
Half time saw no change in personnel by Evans, but surprisingly a change in formation. The Scot matched up a man he has been so critical of, and compressed his 4-4-2 into an imitation diamond. Siriki Dembele was tucked into the number 10 role which clearly doesn’t suit his natural game, and it was the same story as the first half. This lasted just five minutes, as Ivan Toney was chucked on as Evans decided to go all out long ball. And it was still a shit display. Wilkes was causing havoc in the right hand channel, and having beaten Colin Daniel, struck the far post. McCann-a man already idolised by Rovers’ fanbase- looked to turn the screw and silence the crowd that once chanted his name. Fortunately, in true Grant McCann style, the total opposite happened. Siriki Dembele put a straight, flat delivery onto the head of Ryan Tafazolli, who flicked the ball past Marosi. 1-1, and I’d be lying if I said it was deserved.
When the ball hit the back of the net, the level of robbery was approximately at “pocketing a Twix at your local newsagents”. Moments later, it almost reached “tights over your head and committing an armed bank job”, when Ivan Toney rose fantastically to tee up Daniel, who drilled a shot wide of the Donny post. It was at this juncture that Evans decided midfields were overrated, taking off the more disciplined (albeit poor) Mark O’Hara, opting to play Marcus Maddison as a central midfielder alongside the anonymous/invisible Joe Ward and Alex Woodyard, who put in his worst display so far in a Posh shirt. This curious tactical shift left a fuck-off big void in the middle of the park, which only served to heighten our defensive frailties.
Incredibly, Doncaster couldn’t take the lead. Jason Naismith-the right back was far from convincing- dallied inside his own area, and Marquis benefitted from this complacency. Incredibly, Tafazolli blocked the attempt. Chances came thick and fast; Tommy Rowe flicked a header that was fantastically stopped by Chapman, before a combination of Rowe and Wilkes had four attempts at goal following a Doncaster corner. We were clinging on, yet 20 minutes remained. In this week’s instalment of “I never knew he played for Posh”, left back Danny Andrew strode through the part of the pitch where out midfield should have been, and fired a shot high and wide. This was one near miss too many for Evans, who threw on Louis Reed for Dembele. Young Siriki was somehow named the sponsor’s Man of the Match; presumably they did what 2016-17 Grant McCann did when naming a team and decided to pull names out of a hat.
Steve Evans and Paul Raynor walk a disciplinary tight rope most games, and it is inevitable that they will often overbalance. Evans wasn’t impressed by referee Bond’s performance (in other news, water is wet) and picked up a yellow card due to a sarcastic applause. Maddison was sliced down by Ben Whiteman, sending the Scottish manager into a semi meltdown, before a few other inconsequential fouls triggered one protest too many. Bond again jogged toward the North Stand and brandished a red card in the direction of a furious Steve Evans. Stanley Milgram would have a field day with Paul Raynor; the former Cambridge defender has blindly followed Evans’ instructions throughout his coaching career, whether that be resigning from jobs on Steve’s say so, or making life as uncomfortable for officials as possible and this afternoon was no different. Play hadn’t even restarted before Raynor launched a tirade at the officials, leading to him receiving a red card and joining Evans in the director’s box. Posh had lost their management team.
In amongst this soap opera, there was a football match still taking place, and it was one Doncaster were looking to steal. Colin Daniel was stretched time and time again, Rhys Bennett looked shaky and the imperious Ryan Tafazolli was forced to make countless blocks to save his side. We were defending for our lives, and against all odds, still clinging onto a point. Bizarrely, the nuances of our defensive line and midfield shape were being fine-tuned by goalkeeper coach/substitute goalkeeper/interim manager Mark Tyler and… Fitness Coach Lee Taylor. The latter’s job on a match day usually consists of getting the substitutes to jog across the 18 yard box at half time, yet somehow he found himself acting as a tactical coach to a League One club. Given my seat’s proximity to the dug out, I worked out I was approximately 16th in line to a management position if the red cards were to continue.
There was almost time for one last sting that would have been a vintage Grant McCann managerial display. A hopeful ball forward was flicked on to Jason Cummings, who was left one on one with Marosi… Before the offside flag led to frustration around The ABAX. Despite the fireworks created by our dugout, this encounter had a rather low key conclusion, and 4 minutes of injury time couldn’t yield a final flourish. Posh 1, Donny 1. We should have lost that by a couple of goals, but credit has to be given for somehow stopping Rovers leaving Cambridgeshire with 3 points. The talking point of the match is inevitably focused on the northern touchline of London Road. The battle of tactics may have ended in a draw, but the battle of class on and off the pitch was certainly won by McCann. It’s frustrating that Grant, a man who everyone of a Posh persuasion wanted to be a success, has turned Doncaster into the side we could have been, and on a shoestring at that. Meanwhile, Evans and Raynor have completely embarrassed the football club, whilst their team turned in a below par display.
Perhaps I’m being greedy, perhaps our Summer of success has gone to my head, but we should have expected a better display than we witnessed today. We may be top of the league, but carry on like today and we’ll be a long way off after 40 more matches.
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James Bloodworth (jwb1997)
James can be found on twitter @jamesb17_