Blimey, it feels like ages since we’ve done one of these. Posh returned to The Abax for a League One match for the first time in 3 weeks, and their opponents were Bradford City, anchored to the bottom of the table. In years gone by, you could have put your house on this being the kind of match Posh would lose; could the current lot deliver what was expected of them? James Bloodworth went along to find out.
Steve Evans shuffled his pack by lining up with a 4-2-3-1 (you know, like that time we played Barnsley at home, lost 4-0 and had to change tactics after 25 minutes), with Jamie Walker playing off lone forward Matt Godden, Joe Ward-talked up by this very blog this week-and Marcus Maddison offering width, and Tyler Denton retaining the left back slot he’s looked to make his own in recent matches. The home side won the toss at London Road, and in truth, it was the only thing we looked like winning between 3 and 4 o’clock. Posh struggled to get a foothold in the match, and Bradford looked like the team that had been setting the pace in League One this season, while we were playing like the division’s basement team.
Wing back Paul Caddis is a man well known amongst League One and Championship fans. He has undeniable quality, having played for a good Swindon side side in League One, along with Birmingham and Blackburn in the Championship, as well Scotland’s national team (on second thoughts, he might not be all that). It doesn’t matter how good Caddis is though, when you bear in mind that he’s been without a club for 5 months, hasn’t played for even longer, and worst of all, he only joined Bradford on Friday. Caddis was still learning his team mates’ names when he put in a delicious cross which just missed Eoin Doyle; moments later, Caddis was again involved when he forced the first save of the match out of Aaron Chapman with a curling left footed shot. The Bantams weren’t going to roll over, and it was clear Caddis wouldn’t have any defending to do as Posh targeted the right wing throughout.
The pressure intensified on the London Road goal, as bright Huddersfield loanee Jack Payne danced across the penalty area and had his shot blocked by Chapman. Bradford recycled possession, and a long ball forwards found ex-Posh defender Nat Knight-Percival; NKP’s flick found Doyle, who slipped in Anthony O’Connor, who duly slipped the ball past Chapman. Posh were 1-0 down. It isn’t the first time this season, and I doubt it’ll be the last. One thing that’s been a worrying feature throughout this season is the tendency for opponents to have too many touches inside our penalty area. That particular deficiency came to the fore once more today, as more than a handful of miffed fans made their feelings known.
Matt Godden was the focal point of an asthmatic Posh attack, and the isolated 27 year old struggled to get into the match. Bradford defended well as a unit, and aggressively at that; Paul Caddis could have seen red for a heavy tackle on Tyler Denton, whilst definitely not homophobic Hope Akpan was heavy handed with his tackling throughout: both picked up bookings. The visitors were compact and deep, meaning Posh’s traditional, agricultural approach was scrapped in favour of short, lateral passes. In theory, this doesn’t bother me (in fact, that is the correct way to play football in my book); but given the lack of end product and an inability to convert possession to chances meant that all the neat, deep passing had as much point as Fiona Onasanya’s new minicab company. The ball frequently drifted out of play, with Alex Woodyard frequently fizzing passes over the touchline, and Jason Naismith offering no useful outlet whatsoever. When the ball did stay in play, it was consistently crossed in with no purpose, and to the sole target of Matt Godden.
Uncontroversial statement alert: Marcus Maddison is our best player. Controversial statement alert: an over-reliance on him has a huge negative effect on our overall play; the latter was true for the first half of this encounter. Virtually every move had to go through him, and as good as the Geordie is, he’s only human. That being said, he did create chances from a corner-which Louis Reed fired wide- and dangerous crosses were put behind by the fortunate Knight-Percival, and the unlucky Naismith respectively. In between the ball being fed to Maddison to create something, Posh’s persisted with toothless, meaningless passing. Truth be told, it felt like Grant McCann was still in charge.
Half time came around, and Steve Evans switched things up (approximately 40 minutes too late). Scots Walker and Naismith were hooked, with Joe Ward pushed to right back and Ivan Toney thrown on up top to save face against a team who were BOTTOM OF THE LEAGUE. Almost instantly, Posh appeared to be playing with more purpose, as tight interplay between Godden, Toney and Maddison set the latter up for a chance, but he was swarmed by the Bradford back 3. Maddison curled a delicious cross over the head of goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell which was begging for a touch. Siriki Dembele just reached the ball, and tried to restart the attack on the touchline; the Ivorian-born Scot was fouled which allowed Maddison to cross once more. The Posh number 21 (it still feels weird saying that) put in a good looking free kick, which O’Donnell flapped clear; somehow, Jack Payne and ex-Posh man David Ball turned this into a counter attack, and the first Bradford attack of the half looked far more threatening than any of Posh’s half dozen. The home defence just about coped and kept it at 1-0.
It’s pretty clear Steve Evans spent most of half time shouting “CROSS THE FUCKING THING” (or words to that effect). It felt like I was watching the same Posh attack on a loop: Marcus Maddison would put a good cross in, and one of his teammates would either fluff his lines or misread the flight of the ball time and time again, with Siriki Dembele and Matty Godden the worst offenders. David Hopkin-winner of the bi-monthly raffle to be the Bradford City manager- was desperate to see the game out and end a torrid run of 6 defeats in style, and looked to slow down play by bringing on Lewis O’Brien for Hope Akpan. Hopkin was ready, O’Brien was ready and Akpan was ready; the fourth official and the referee were not. Man in the middle Mr Oldham let Posh take a quick, deep free kick instead of allowing the substitution to take place; The Bradford coaching staff were all a bit cross. 90 seconds later, they were apoplectic. Maddison had played an optimistic through ball to Matt Godden, who missed. As did the Bradford defence. Ivan Toney seemingly appeared out of nowhere and was somehow one on one with the keeper, who cooly slotted past the goalkeeper, in spite of a hint of offside. It wasn’t deserved, Bradford didn’t think it was fair, but none of that mattered. Posh 1, Bradford 1.
Getting a winner would not be straightforward. Jack Payne has to be one of the brightest talents in the league, and any counter attacking pie he had his fingers in looked dangerous. He linked up well with David Ball (who has transformed his game from a supermarket’s own make of Kevin Phillips to a very competent winger/attacking midfielder), and Payne had a chance to finish the move he started after Aaron Chapman punched a cross; fortunately Alex Woodyard smothered the Huddersfield loanee. Woodyard had a mixed game: out of possession, he looked to be Championship standard; when the ball was at his feet, he looked incredibly League 2. That being said, when he kept it simple and played simple passes to Marcus Maddison, he was just what we needed to accompany Louis Reed, who whilst understated, had a good game.
Jason Cummings was thrown on for the final chunk of the match in place of Matt Godden. This would have been a reasonable change in normal circumstances… however, Cummings was stripped and ready to go when Marcus Maddison was clattered and was clearly affected by a heavy fall. For some reason, instead of delaying the final substitution, or even hooking Maddison as a precaution, Evans and Raynor gave Cummings the green light to replace Godden. With Maddison hobbling, it fell to Joe Ward to be the principle source of all crosses. In my piece praising Ward a few weeks ago, I bemoaned how he was ‘unable to cross a road, let alone a football’ when he first arrived. Unfortunately, that side of Ward returned, and I think a conservative estimate of 20 crosses were messed up by the former Woking man. Despite the consistent failure of this tactic, Evans continued to encourage the loop of ‘deep passing, balls out wide, poor cross, repeat’. What’s that idiom about insanity and doing the same thing over and over again?
Despite Posh’s possession and attacking riches, it was the visiting side that looked most likely to steal all three points, as Payne once again broke free, and Paul Caddis’ vicious cross was begging for a touch to win the game. Ward saw the most of the ball in injury time of all Posh players, and his inability to put in a successful cross caused one fan close to Steve Evans and me to snap, and launch a verbal attack on Ward’s skillset and the general play overall. It was fair enough for Posh’s boss to defend his charges, but the defence of turning to and looking at said fan and shouting “WE’VE HAD ONE FUCKING SHOT! ONE!” was somewhat bizarre, given that this was exactly what he was unhappy about.
Full time. Posh 1, Bradford City 1. Posh had a disproportionate amount of possession, yet somehow conspired to only create one clear chance. The tactic of relentless crossing, which we relied on throughout the match, is ingrained into the English game; but much like drinking Bovril and pissing on the leg of the person in front of you in the terrace, the traditional aspect does not mean it’s a good idea. Statistical consultant Garry Gelade specialises in football analytics, and after an intensive study of 35,000 crosses, found that only 2.2% led to goals within 6 seconds of the ball entering the area. To put that into context, the bookies think that us winning the league this season is about twice as likely as any given cross in a match being scored. Most people can see that betting on us finishing 1st is a sure fire way to become less rich, so why the christ you’d have faith in something less likely coming off, I do not know. Anyway, a bad day at the office, with awful tactics and a baffling selection. Steve Evans is making some odd choices, and he needs to show it can get better before the Peterborough natives grow more restless.
Disagree with James’ take on that display? Were we unlucky, or fortunate to get a point? Where did our tactics go wrong? Voice your opinion on anything Peterborough United related, by heading to the biggest Posh forum on the internet now.
James Booodworth (jwb1997)