Ferguson’s return to London Road saw The Posh put in a fantastic second-half performance to storm to a 4-0 victory over Hartlepool.
Darren Ferguson who received a good ovation, although boos could be heard from certain sections of the crowd, started with a ‘diamond’ – 4-1-2-1-2 – formation. Charlie Lee was selected as the shield in-front of the defence whilst George Boyd moved into an attacking midfield position, expected to provide a link between the midfield and attack. Tom Kennedy made his debut at left back and Chris Whelpdale continued at right back after impressing against Brighton the week before.
Hartlepool, who’ve had a resurgence of form since Mick Wadsworth was appointed as manager, had a definite physical presence amongst their side. Sam Collins, Gary Liddle, Ritchie Humphries and Andy Monkhouse were all particularly tall and, after shaping up in a similar formation to Posh, it seemed they would play to their strengths. Hartlepool are more of an organised unit rather than a slick, passing team.
In the opening stages neither side were playing to their maximum potential and already the game was turning into a scrap which would favour the visitors. Posh hadn’t managed to get their passing game going and the play was bogged down in the middle of the pitch – where Peterborough and Hartlepool naturally had most of their players due to both team’s systems. However, Craig Mackail-Smith did go close when he blasted a shot, from a tight angle, but it was well saved by Jake Kean. In-truth he may have been better passing as there were a number of better placed Posh players rushing into the box.
The game continued in a drab manner throughout the opening half hour but still Mackail-Smith had threatened to get his name of the score-sheet. Twice the striker got in behind the Hartlepool defence before wasting good opportunities after a heavy first touch. Hartlepool were proving tough to break down and showing why they had only conceded 9 goals all season away from home. The visitors also weren’t scared to make their presence felt and when Lee Tomlin was brought down under a heavy challenge, after a fine piece of skill, by Neil Austin the defender would have been relieved to see only a yellow card produced by the referee.
Posh were starting to look a little desperate towards the end of the half with Kelvin Langmead particularly guilty of trying far too many direct passes out of defence. As a result possession was being gifted to Hartlepool and Posh were struggling to get out of their own half. Indeed, it was the “Monkey Hangers” who looked the more likely scorers towards the end of the half. Firstly, going close through a long-range effort from Gary Liddle, which was turned away well from Lewis, and then both Andy Monkhouse and Anthony Sweeney wasted good chances after being left un-marked from crosses. The defensive errors were typical of the ones that plagued Gary Johnson’s reign at the club and this weakness from crosses is something Ferguson must work on if he is to reduce the alarming amount of goals Posh have been conceding this season.
If this was supposed to be Ferguson’s honeymoon period after rejoining the club then it had been one spent in Blackpool. Dull and uninspiring, Posh had not shown much in the first 45 minutes and it dramatic improvement was needed in the second half if the hosts were to grab the three points that they desperately needed to maintain their promotion challenge.
Neither manager chose to change either personnel or formations at half-time and the second half began much in the same manner as the first. Hartlepool, in-fact, came closest to breaking the deadlock when Andy Monkhouse smashed a long-range shot over the bar although Lewis did his best to make the shot look closer than it actually was.
The Posh crowd were becoming frustrated now and the atmosphere was beginning to get louder inside London Road, such was the desperation for a goal to celebrate. And, with just after an hour played, Posh obliged. An initial scrap in the area saw the ball pop up into a position for James Wesolowski to bravely head the ball across goal for CRAIG MACKAIL-SMITH who, equally daringly, got in-front of the defender and headed the ball beyond Jake Kean in the Hartlepool goal.
It wasn’t long before the home support had another goal to celebrate either. Initially a fantastic touch from Lee Tomlin, bringing the ball out of the air with a wonderfully skilled piece of control, put Posh into a dangerous position with bodies streaming forward. One of the on-rushing players was Boyd and Tomlin sent a perfectly weighted pass into his feet, before Boyd’s shot took a deflection and drew a fantastic stop from Kean, who flicked a leg out to deflect the ball onto the cross-bar, but TOMMY ROWE was there to apply the finishing touch to well crafted Posh move.
All of a sudden Posh were playing with confidence and their football had dramatically improved on the dire performance that they had put in during the first forty five minutes. And Posh were carving the Hartlepool defence open with ease. The third goal came when Charlie Lee, fully committed as ever, won a header brilliantly well which allowed Mackail-Smith space in the channel to put in a beautifully weighted cross to LEE TOMLIN, arriving from deep, to head home spectacularly beyond Kean. It was Tomlin’s fifth goal in 8 games and it further highlighted his potential.
Peterborough would have been desperate to keep a clean-sheet now, with only 15 minutes to hold on, but ‘Pool almost gave the travelling support a consolation strike after an almighty scramble led to Anthony Sweeney’s shot hitting the post. Immediately Posh went down the other end with Mackail-Smith’s endless energy allowing him to break free of the Hartlepool defence, who were struggling to get back, and feed Tommy Rowe in to add a fourth but somehow the former Stockport player blazed his effort over the bar.
A bizarre refereeing decision, firstly to award a free-kick and then ignore the fact that the ball had been moving when the set-piece was taken, allowed Leon McSweeney to capitalise on Peterborough’s confusion and his shot from long-range clipped the foot of the post before going behind for a goal-kick. It seemed that Posh would have to ride their luck a little of they were to keep the visitors at bay for 90 minutes.
But Posh don’t know how to defend, although some of the passing was tremendous to watch drawing “Ole’s” from the London Road crowd, and Peterborough continued to attack but they were rewarded for this mentality when JAMES WESOLOWSKI fired home a vicious low strike to give Posh a very impressive 4-0 victory.
I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that our first clean-sheet since October has come almost immediately since Ferguson has returned. We kept 18 of them last team we were at this level and it formed the basis of our promotion. Although Hartlepool did create a few chances on the whole it was a much improved defensive performance. Particular credit must go to Tom Kennedy, who was assured at left-back on his debut both in an attacking and defensive sense, Ryan Bennett, who was a rock at centre back, and Charlie Lee, who put his body on the line for the cause and provided a fantastic shield for the defence. On a more negative note Kelvin Langmead continues to be a liability, giving the ball away regularly and losing his man more than once in a dangerous position. Until he is removed from the back-four I do not believe that our defensive record will dramatically improve.
The last half an hour was easily the best performance of the season. Some of the football being played was majestic and it led to Hartlepool players simply trying to foul our more creative individuals such was their frustration at chasing shadows. It was great to see the confidence flowing back into the team and if we start games playing football like that we will see vast amounts of goals being scored at this level. Indeed, this was the first time we have won by a four goal margin since Huddersfield at home in 2008, also under Ferguson.
It was always going to take the team a little while to adapt to a new system and hopefully performances will continue to improve as the team becomes more accustomed to this diamond formation. A three pronged attack of Lee Tomlin, Craig Mackail-Smith and George Boyd is unbelievably exciting at this level and poses a threat to every League One defence. With Ferguson at the helm we finally have a manager who will be able to harness this and balance it out with some defensive performances when needed, I believe.
“Move On Up”, as is tradition nowadays at London Road, was played at the end of the game today and for the first time in a long while it felt meaningful. We are now heading in the right direction. We go ahead of Southampton, Huddersfield and Bournemouth if we win our games in hand over these sides and we are now well placed for an unlikely automatic promotion spot. Under Ferguson I’m more confident that ever that we can achieve this.
Up The Posh.