Posh condemned a battling Dagenham side to relegation to League Two after a ruthless display in the final third.
The feeling around London Road in the build up to the match was a strange one. Both sets of fans conveyed completely contrasting feelings towards the game. Whilst most of the home fans saw the chance of this game to give the players some confidence going into the playoffs the most pressing concern would have been to avoid injury and suspension. For Dagenham the match represented one of the most important games in their history. A loss and the Daggers would be relegated. A win or a draw and results elsewhere could mean that they retained their League One status.
Darren Ferguson selected a strong side, playing in the usual diamond formation. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing started up-front, alongside former Dagenham man Craig Mackail-Smith, whilst Mark Little returned to the starting line-up at right back. John Still started with a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation with the physical presence of John Akinde designed to hold the play up to bring others, like his strike partner John Nurse, into play.
The opening of the match started in competitive fashion. Dagenham had plenty of spirit and were not about to make this easy for Posh, epitomised by Peter Gain scything tackle on Mendez-Laing, doing nothing to endear himself to the Peterborough United fans on his return to London Road, but it was the hosts who had the first chance of the match. Quick feet from Tommy Rowe saw him dance passed a couple of Dagenham defenders before he was thwarted by a good save from veteran goalkeeper Tony Roberts.
It was not long before Dagenham’s attitude was questioned though. When NATHANIEL MENDEZ-LAING collected the ball on the half-way line he appeared to have it in a fairly innocuous position but his initial instinct was simply to travel forward. Playing the ball 10 yards beyond Mark Arber he burst passed the centre back and was suddenly clean through on goal, capitalising on an explicably high-line being played by the Dagenham defence, taking the ball on fully forty yards he entered the penalty area, still unchallenged, before showing excellent composure to slot the ball beyond Roberts. The Wolves loanee has been crying out for a chance for a start, rather than the impact substitute appearances he was being given beforehand, and in the last three weeks he has been given this opportunity. After scoring 3 goals in 4 games he has certainly given Darren Ferguson something to think about in terms of his starting line-up for the playoffs.
It may have been a bitter blow for Dagenham’s survival chances but they weren’t about to give up. After George Boyd skipped around two ‘Dagger’s’ defenders he presented himself with a glorious opportunity but he toe-poked the ball beyond the far post. This seem to provide a wake-up goal to the visitors who snapped into life. Darren Currie was first to go close for Dagenham when his curling shot clipped the outside of the post before bouncing away but it was John Akinde who was presented with the best opportunity to get Dagenham level. After making an intelligent run he was spotted by Nurse who played a perfectly weighted pass to him. Akinde was in the clear with only Lewis to beat but the Posh stopper was quick off his line and managed to get himself in the way of the ball with a fine save.
Worryingly for Peterborough fans Charlie Lee hobbled off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. It was exactly what Posh didn’t want and the left-back position is one that they are short in after injuries to Grant Basey and Tom Kennedy have ruled them both out of the playoff campaign. Youngster Joe Newell was introduced as his replacement with Tommy Rowe stepping back into left-back.
When you are fighting the drop you need things to go for you. Yet, as the half wore on, Dagenham would have wondered whether it was just not to be their day. John Akinde was again played through on goal before he squandered the opportunity, again shooting straight at Joe Lewis. Still, Dagenham surged forward. This time Femi Ilesanmi was the creator, bursting passed Mark Little at full-back before pulling the ball back for Darren Currie who saw shot cannon back off the post.
The question at half-time was how the scoreline was only 1-0? Posh could easily have been 4-0 up but could have had no complaints if they were three or four goals behind themselves. Dagenham would have considered themselves very unlucky to be behind but with Southampton leading against Walsall they knew they only needed to equalise to stay up: the way the first half had gone it seemed inevitable.
STARTER OR IMPACT SUB?: Mendez-Laing recent goalscoring record has given Darren Ferguson something to think about heading into the playoffs.
Despite having the momentum with them going into the break it Dagenham failed to create anything clear-cut in the opening of stages of the second half. Their fans were willing the ball into the net but they simply couldn’t find a way to break the Posh defence down, with Zakuani particularly impressive. In-fact it was Peterborough who could have been further in-front. Craig Mackail-Smith, James Wesolowski and Tommy Rowe were all presented with good opportunities but none of the could take them.
It appeared that Dagenham’s luck may have changed though. After Roberts saved well from Mackail-Smith the ball was loose, the goalkeeper was away from his goal, and it fell to the youngest player on the pitch, Newell. Many would have panicked in such an opportunity but Newell was intelligent, as he had been throughout, and flicked the ball over the top of Will Antwi’s head before presenting himself with a chance to score his first professional goal. However, George Boyd got in the way and tried an acrobatic over-head kick, miscuing his shot and allowing Roberts a chance to scramble back and clutch the ball gratefully.
If that wasn’t the chance to secure the three points then Mackail-Smith really should have confirmed his former side’s relegation moments later. George Boyd put in an excellent cross which landed straight on the onrushing striker’s head but he managed to put the ball over the bar from close range.
It wasn’t long before that miss was forgotten though. Mendez-Laing’s pace and power was again on show as he raced onto the end of a magnificent Joe Newell pass before steadying and playing the ball back to GRANT MCCANN, on a rare surge forward, who provided the finishing touches in expert fashion. The technique on the shot was supreme and it left Roberts with no chance of saving it.
John Still decided that 4-3-3 was now the formation needed with Bas Savage joining the attacking ranks. It was a move that almost paid off instantly. The added attacking numbers may have left room for Posh to attack but the hosts could barely get the ball out of their half at this stage. And a succession of chances fell the visitor’s way. Firstly, Romain Vincelot found space after a cross went all the way across the Peterborough box but his shot was excellently cleared of the line by Gabriel Zakuani. Then Vincelot again was guilty of spurning a good opportunity before Darren Currie just couldn’t direct his header goalwards.
At this moment in time had Dagenham have scored it would have been a very nerve-wracking few minutes for their supporters. The way the game had been, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see one goal lead to a second. But, if the game wasn’t already over, it was in the 82nd minute. Posh exploited the space in the Dagenham back-line and David Ball slotted through Mackail-Smith who cut the ball back for GEORGE BOYD to smash beyond Tony Roberts. It was a cruel goal for Dagenham who had been very competitive throughout the game but it was ultimately this added quality in Posh’s team that saw them near the top of the table and Dagenham near the bottom.
The game was over for the visitors now and they knew it too. With their heads down Posh were not about to stop playing and feel sorry for them. Joe Newell capped off an excellent performance putting in a wonderful cross for CRAIG MACKAIL-SMITH to attack and make the score 4-0. The striker did not celebrate his strike against his former club but did acknowledge the youngster’s contribution.
And Posh finished off a very good regular league campaign in stoppage time. DAVID BALL found space in the Dagenham box before wrong-footing Tony Roberts to put a gloss on the scoreline and score Posh’s 106th and final league goal of the season.
You could not help but feel sorry for the Dagenham players at the final whistle. Applauding their own fans they appeared devastated at the relegation of their club from a league that few would have expected them to be in. Posh entered an impromptu lap of honour around the ground as both supporters and players mutually clapped each other but they now have three games to make this season worthwhile.
5-0 did somewhat flatter to deceive as Posh’s performance hadn’t been as good as the result suggested. On another day they could have lost this game, which sounds ludicrous. But Posh have been so ruthless in-front of goal this season that these goals are the reason that they are in the playoffs.
Joe Newell’s performance today deserves a special mention. He was excellently composed throughout and rarely wasted possession. It is easy to place too hype and pressure on these type of players at such a young age but it is obvious he has the ability to play at a very high level, even with the little we have seen of him so far. Gabby Zakuani, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Grant McCann also had good games.
Everyone’s attention now turns to the playoffs. A semi-final against MK Dons is a mouth-watering prospect. I would like nothing better than to knock them out, and I think it is a widely mutual feeling between Posh fans. However, the heartbreak will only be added to if they manage to beat us. It may be a cliché to call the playoffs a lottery but they really are impossible to predict. We must make sure we make it to Old Trafford and give ourselves a chance at promotion.