A thriller at London Road, not for the first time this season, saw Posh run out 5-3 winners against Sheffield Wednesday in a game that had everything.
Darren Ferguson started with the same personnel and diamond formation that he had chosen to use for the last three games. Paul Jones, signed on deadline day, took his place on the bench but David Ball, also a late deadline day signing, missed out as the paper-work for his transfer was not completed in time.
Alan Irvine, who is under big pressure at Hillsborough, has chosen to rotate his squad on a regular basis, choosing to select teams that will best suit against the opposition that Wednesday are facing, and the former Preston boss made five changes to his line-up once again for this fixture, setting up in a 4-1-3-2 formation.
Peterborough United fans had seen their side capitulate against sides who were also challengers for promotion this season on a regular basis; nonetheless, with Ferguson at the helm, an appointment which seems to have brought a new energy to the club, many fans were quietly optimistic for the fixture. Wednesday, however, started the better of the two sides. Neil Mellor wasted a good chance in the early stages, from a cheaply conceded corner but the away side continued to threaten as Posh struggled to deal with the width being provided by Jermaine Johnson on the left-hand side.
And, indeed, this width was the cause of Posh conceding. When the ball was played out to the skilful winger he had far too much space to run into, with James Wesolowski – playing on the right-hand prong of the diamond – failing to track back and completely exposing Chris Whelpdale at right back. Immediately as JERMAINE JOHNSON picked the ball up his natural instinct was to try to capitalise on this one-on-one situation and he rounded Whelpdale far too easily, as the defender seemed insistent on backing-off, cut inside and struck a low shot beyond Lewis. Posh were behind after 5 minutes and after losing heavily to Charlton and Brighton already at London Road the warning signs were that this could be repeat performance from Posh. The goal had highlighted the defensive weaknesses that had plagued the side this season and that had left many fans questioning why the club hadn’t brought in at least one defender during the transfer window.
This time, though, Posh reacted well to the goal. Boyd, Tomlin and Mackail-Smith were all threatening in the attacking stages of the pitch and Nicky Weaver, in the Sheffield Wednesday goal, was called into the action for the first time in the match as Boyd, who’s form has not been up to his own phenomenal standards of late, unleashed a long-range effort which the former Manchester City ‘keeper could only parry.
Johnson had clearly spotted that by staying out wide, on the left hand-side, he was causing Posh problems and as the hosts continued to push men forward to try to find an elusive equaliser he was proving a valuable outlet on the counter attack. By utilising the space he was being granted Wednesday always had a potent option and Whelpdale was struggling to deal with the evasive winger. And because of this Wednesday should have extended their advantage but Neil Mellor, once a Liverpool Champions League hero, could not finish after a good cross from Johnson.
Posh continued to threaten and some of the movement going forward was as good as it had been all season. When Lee Tomlin picked up the ball 30 yards out and was allowed to run at the Wednesday defence, with Giles Coke out of his “protective” role in front of the back four, it was clear to everyone who had been at London Road this season what his intentions would be. A quick touch out of his feet and a rasping effort was saved well from Nicky Weaver but he could only push the ball back into play and CRAIG MACKAIL-SMITH simply followed up the rebound for an easy finish.
There was a definite sense of relief around London Road now but the game still hung in the balance. Johnson was continuing to be the influential player in Sheffield Wednesday offensive play and when he found space again, with the London Road crowd screaming at Whelpdale to stop drifting inside, he capitalised. Slotting the ball back inside for Giles Coke who tried an audacious shot from distance, which was spectacularly blocked by Charlie Lee, but the deflection took the ball straight into the feet of GARY MADINE who was composed and slotted the ball beyond Lewis’ reach to give the visitors an advantage.
Just as quickly as Wednesday had seized the advantage for the second time in the match, after Posh had scored, the hosts had equalised again. This time Posh broke quickly and when Lee Tomlin slotted GEORGE BOYD through on goal, with the visitor’s defence out of position, the “White Pele” smashed his shot beyond Nicky Weaver and into the back of the net. In-truth the Wednesday stopper arguably should have done better with the effort but the defending in-front of him had been poor to allow Boyd so much room to fire his shot on target.
Amazingly only 25 minutes had been played and already this game had had as much action as most games have in an entire ninety minutes. Surely, then there couldn’t be any more goals before half-time? However this was being played at London Road, a stadium that has now seen 69 goals scored in just 14 games, so it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise when Wednesday took the lead for a third time in the match. Posh again were to blame for their own downfall. This time James Wesolowski tried to play a pass to switch play but it was under-hit and easy to intercept, leaving CHRIS SEDGEWICK room to run at the Peterborough defence, instead he chose to exchange passes with Neil Mellor before finding himself in a dangerous position and he duly obliged; smashing a finish into the far corner of Lewis’ net.
Even now both sides were still attacking and could have had more goals before the half-time whistle. Lee Tomlin, who seemed determined to get on the score-sheet, went close with a typically powerful long-range drive; this time the ball flew just over the cross-bar. Before Jermaine Johnson again rounded Whelpdale to create space for himself but this time he dragged his shot wide.
As the half-time whistle blew it had been an all too familiar first half display by Posh this season. Again, going forward the side had looked fantastic but now the side knew they would have to score four goals to win the match; a tough ask against any team but one made even harder by the fact that Sheffield Wednesday are also aiming for an immediate return to the Championship themselves. Posh had been overly reliant on their attacking force this season and again they were going to have to hope that the potency of the offensive play could dig them out of a hole that they had dug for themselves.
It was a relief to Posh to see that Jermaine Johnson did not return after half-time, seemingly suffering with an injury, however, Ferguson had made changes to alter his team too – probably because of the trouble that the Jamaican was causing the Peterborough United defence – with Mark Little coming on to play at right-back, Chris Whelpdale moving into midfield and James Wesolowski being withdrawn.
If both managers had ask their time to be a little more considerate of their defensive duties after the interval the players hadn’t listened as the second half continued in the same vein as the first 45 minutes had. Giles Coke arguably should have scored for the visitors before Lewis made a good save from Neil Mellor and Craig Mackail-Smith went close to equalising for the hosts.
As Posh began to pressure Sheffield Wednesday back in their own half the chances seemed to have dried up. Peterborough looked the more likely to score but as the clock ticked over the hour mark neither side had managed to create a clear cut opportunity for a significant amount of time, certainly the longest time the match had gone on for without seeing a good opportunity for either side. But when Lee Tomlin played a phenomenally weighted pass, between two Sheffield Wednesday defenders, for the jet-heeled Mackail-Smith to race onto the striker was brought down, as he bore down on goal, by a despairing lunge from Darren Potter. The referee had little choice but to send the midfielder off and with Wednesday down to ten men it gave Posh some added impetus to attempt to win the game.
Ferguson sensed this too. Grant McCann had been brought on before the red-card, replacing Tommy Rowe, to provide a calming influence on what had been high-octane game so far. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing was also brought on to try to provide Posh with some extra attacking incentive, the super fast winger brought on to replace Chris Whelpdale, for his now seemingly traditional cameo appearance, as Posh looked to use his pace off the wing to provide them with another outlet to create chances at Wednesday tired.
Posh were well on top now and it seemed just a matter of time before they did score. Ironically though, Wednesday were defending far better now than they were with eleven men and it meant that Posh were having to work hard to create chances. However, when GEORGE BOYD found some space in a crowded eighteen yard box he lashed his volley beyond Weaver and into the top of the net to level the score at 3-3.
Tomlin again found space from distance and smashed a long-range effort on goal but Weaver was well placed to stop the shot. This time catching the drive, somehow, seemingly learning from the first goal that had came from similar circumstances. Posh hadn’t given up yet though and NATHANIEL MENDEZ-LAING, who had caused the visitors problems since his introduction, managed to escape past his marker, after a fantastic pass from Tomlin, and took his time before firing the ball into the back of the net to put The Posh in-front for the first time in the match in dramatic circumstances.
Wednesday’s stalling tactics were no longer evident as they sacrificed a midfielder to put two strikers back up-front to try to grab a point from a game that had been a remarkable contest. It was Posh though who looked more likely to be the team to score the next goal and after Lee Tomlin sublime run, escaping the tackles of numerous Wednesday defenders, he found himself one-on-one with Weaver but couldn’t apply the finish to put get the goal that his performance had deserved.
With the game still in the balance there was a sense that the visitors would get one more chance to equalise and take at least a point back to Yorkshire with them. Indeed, a corner in the last minute of injury time provided hope for the travelling contingent of Wednesday supporters. Nicky Weaver was called forward to add extra bodies into the box as Wednesday’s desperation was evident. However, the set-piece was disappointing and Lewis’ commanding punch fell out the feet of Grant McCann who spotted CRAIG MACKAIL-SMITH, who Posh had left forward, and picked his run out perfectly before the striker simply ran, unchallenged, to tap the ball into an unguarded net.
This was a brilliant match. Make no mistake about it. It was the best game that has been seen at London Road for a long-time, since Bristol Rovers in 2008 perhaps, and there have been some high scoring games since. It had everything. However, as good as we are going forward, we must learn how to defend. All three of Sheffield Wednesday’s goals were avoidable – they all came as a result of Peterborough United errors. But Kelvin Langmead and Tom Kennedy can both be relatively pleased with their individual performers if not the defence as a whole. As a fan-base we criticised Gary Johnson for results like these so Ferguson should not escape negative comments completely.
However, negatives out of the way, we are one hell of a threat going forward. We have the best attack in the division and whilst teams marvel at the talent of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, for Southampton, there is another real star emerging at this level in the form of Lee Tomlin. He has an ability to create things out of nothing. Even more encouraging was the performance of George Boyd who was back to his brilliant best tonight. And Craig-Mackail-Smith continues to amaze up-front; I fully expect him to lead the goalscoring charts at the end of the season. After Aaron McLean’s departure to Hull City many feared that it would have a detrimental effect to our attacking play but it doesn’t appear to have done so. Instead a new trinity are emerging and Lee Tomlin is making the step-up with ease.
As Sheffield Wednesday are expected to be rivals at the end of the season we also must have taken a close note of their performance. They, indeed, seemed to have the same problems as us. Good going forward but woeful defensively and it seemed to me that our attack just had a little bit more quality than theirs, which won us the game in the end. Alan Irvine will continue to be under pressure to get the best out of a squad with undoubted potential to be one of the best in the division; the story of his reign appears to be similar to Gary Johnson’s here and it seems inevitable, in my opinion, that he will be sacked soon.
We have made a nasty habit out of losing games against better opposition this season so it was pleasing to win this one. London Road is starting to get excited again, there is finally a buzz inside the stadium. With Ferguson at the helm new life has been breathed into the club and you can feel the magic that he brought with him in his first reign here coming back.
Up The Posh