Unquestionably the highlight of the schedule in League One this weekend, two unbeaten teams clashed at London Road on a warm September afternoon. 1st vs 2nd. Posh vs Pompey. Were we set to see a stalemate and both invincible runs carrying on? Or would one of these two fall, as both sides faced arguably their first major tests this season? A five figure crowd including James Bloodworth crammed into London Road to find out.
It was a football match that had been highly anticipated by the Peterborough United fanbase over the past week; truth be told, calling this first half a football match could have me done under the trade descriptions act. We lost the toss, were given the kick off, and promptly twatted the ball towards Mark O’Hara. Possession was lost, and Portsmouth bossed the ball and enjoyed some good passing moves during the opening 10 minutes. Whilst the Hampshire outfit had several flashes of quality football, very few chances were created by either side, as it became quite clear neither could afford to fall behind early doors.
Posh looked disjointed. The absence of a ball playing midfielder cost us, as aimless long balls forward found nobody but the Portsmouth back line; Jason Cummings, Matt Godden and Siriki Dembele couldn’t get involved, and worryingly, perceived ‘weak link’ Joe Ward was the star performer. In spite of this, a few half chances were carved out; Jason Cummings teed up Rhys Bennett, with the latter shanking a volley into a Pompey-populated Moys’ End. Scotland international Cummings then smashed a bouncing ball high and wide. Not the first thing he’s smashed this week, eh lads? Anyhow, Portsmouth continued to grow into the match. The first shot on target came from Ben Close, who tested Aaron Chapman.
Oliver Hawkins (a man built like a brick shithouse) posed a threat for the visitors, but fortunately all of his headers in the first half drifted over the crossbar. Let’s hope it carried on like that, eh lads!!! Whilst the first half was very much a non-event, it yielded the best passing move in the regulation 90 minutes for Posh, as O’Hara, Ward and finally Jason Naismith combined; the Scottish right back fizzed his cross into Craig MacGillivray’s arms. Honestly, that was as good as it got. Pompey looked dangerous on the break, and coupled with the shaky displays of Colin Daniel, Rhys Bennett and even Ryan Tafazolli, the warning signs were there of what could happen to Posh. Half time: Posh 0, Portsmouth 0.
Given the low quality of the first half, the opening 15 minutes of the second felt like a footballing masterclass. The game looked like it could have broken out into a free flowing affair, but the niggly fouls accumulated and Premier League referee Roger East was kept busy, causing the free kick tally to head north. However, Kenny Jackett and Steve Evans were locked in a tactical arm wrestle, and the scoreboard remained blank. Posh’s management team blinked first, chucking on last week’s match winner Ivan Toney in the hope he could do the same again; Cummings was the man sacrificed after picking up a knock, but in truth he had such a negligible impact over the course of the match that he didn’t deserve to stay on. The balls got longer, the passing became less precise and the momentum just didn’t shift in Posh’s favour.
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill was present at London Road today (his assistant Roy Keane wasn’t though; presumably he was busy burning down an orphanage or drowning a litter of kittens) with his attention centred on Pompey winger Ronan Curtis. The Portsmouth number 11 impressed all afternoon, and with an hour on the clock, evaded Ward and Naismith, and whipped a cross towards Hawkins. Incredibly, Hawkins peeled away from our defence with ease and drove a header towards Chapman’s right-hand post. Crucially, it was inside the post. Posh 0, Portsmouth 1.
For a side that prides itself on defensive solidity, it was an unforgivable mistake. Hawkins is six and a half feet tall, and to not pick him up was almost beyond belief.
Portsmouth looked to extend their lead; Curtis fizzed a shot over, and loud appeals for a handball and penalty were turned down by East. Marcus Maddison and Jamie Walker were chucked on by Evans in a desperate attempt to salvage at least a point, but the crap football continued hand in hand with the Portsmouth domination. Then, the inevitable happened. Portsmouth broke, following a poor pass by Rhys Bennett, and after umpteen deflections and halfhearted challenges, Hawkins managed to cross to Curtis. 3 players rushed to the Irishman… Leaving Jamal Lowe totally unmarked. Curtis’ cushioned header fell to Lowe, and his placed finish sent the 4,000 visiting fans into pandemonium.
And then, the Peterborough United mammary glands reorientated themselves into the vertical position. Substitutes Maddison and Walker launched late lunges on their opposition, borne out of frustration, and the Portsmouth onslaught looked to continue. Hawkins poked a chance wide of the post as the hosts found themselves firmly on the ropes. Ivan Toney had a golden opportunity to half the deficit on the 80th minute, but his free header was fairly innocuous as it drifted wide. He almost made amends moments later though, after excellent build up play fed in Marcus Maddison, but the Geordie’s cross was dealt with by Portsmouth’s imperious defensive duo of Matt Clarke and former Posh man Christian Burgess.
7 minutes of injury time flashed up on the electronic board, and the biggest Posh crowd of the season slowly began to file out of the exits. Aaron Chapman was clattered by Oliver Hawkins and struggled to see the remainder of the match out, and for the closing moments resembled your arthritic grandad hobbling out of bed. Portsmouth were streetwise as they attempted to see out a victory to send them top of the table; Steve Evans started accusing the south coast side of time wasting that was “FUCKING RIDICULOUS”. Insert obvious idiom about kettles and pots here. Frustratingly, Posh finally started playing in the 93rd minute. An excellent piece of play from Maddison, Walker and finally Matt Godden meant Posh had a lifeline; former Stevenage man Godden displayed excellent footwork to leave MacGillivray on the floor, and expertly fired a left footed effort into the net. 2-1. Was there to be a twist?
No, quite simply. Tafazolli was sent to accompany Toney and Godden, and almost set up the most dramatic of finishes when his cushioned header found Siriki Dembele. Remember him? Yeah he was still on the pitch, apparently. The former Grimsby winger’s left footed volley was soft, and apart from the most optimistic of handball shouts from Steve Evans, that was the final chance. Posh 1. Pompey 2. Bugger. Kenny Jackett won the tactical battle, out-thinking Evans whilst his players out-fought our own. We were crap, but worryingly not significantly worse than any of our other home games this season: the good luck we’ve had in recent weeks looks to have totally disappeared, whilst our opponents were a cut above any other team to have graced London Road this season.
So there we have it. Posh’s unbeaten league run has been bookended by 2 defeats to Portsmouth, and consigned to the history books. We must improve if we want to maintain our (still) lofty position, and bouncing back will be a big challenge for Steve Evans. Is this a mere blip? Or the start of the traditional Peterborough United Autumnal slump? Be sure to add your voice to the discussion on the forum now
James Bloodworth (jwb1997)