Despite having a two goal advantage twice Peterborough inexplicably threw away three points and had to settle with a 3-3 draw to promotion chasing Bournemouth.
Darren Ferguson gave James Wesolowski a rare start in central midfield as Charlie Lee shifted to right-back to cover for the suspended Mark Little after he picked up a red card against Bristol Rovers. Lee Bradbury started with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Danny Ings favoured as the loan striker. Liam Feeney, Marc Pugh and Donal McDermott, on loan from Manchester City, formed the rest of the attacking quartet.
The game flew into life as both teams had early chances. Lee Tomlin found himself free inside the area but could only manage to flick a header straight to Shawn Jalal who was making his return to London Road after not making the grade a Peterborough. For the visitors Liam Feeney burst over the half-way line, as they looked to counter on Posh’s attacking strategy, but his shot flew wide of the mark.
The game’s lively start suggested that it would not be too long before the deadlock was broken and in the 12th minute CRAIG MACKAIL-SMITH did open the scoring. A wonderful, fizzing pass from Grant McCann found Mackail-Smith who brought the ball down, cut inside and lashed a half volley beyond the despairing Shawn Jalal in the Bournemouth goal. It was a perfect exhibition of how much he has improved this season. A fantastic touch met with a glorious finish emphasised his class; it was a chance he would not have scored in previous campaigns.
Posh were looking confident now and were playing some lovely, intricate passes as Posh displayed the style of football and attacking zest that has seen them lead the division’s scoring charts this season. It wasn’t long before this rotation in the forward positions paid off either. As TOMMY ROWE surged forward from deep he found himself with room to run at the Bournemouth defence. With three red shirted players around him and no Posh player in support his options seemed fairly limited so Rowe set off. Knocking the ball passed Shaun Cooper he suddenly found himself in the clear, after out-pacing the defender, and he unleashed a powerful striker beyond Jalal who got a palm to the shot but could not stop the ball from flying into the back of the net.
Bournemouth were really struggling to deal with Posh defensively and the hosts were taking advantage. Lee Tomlin’s smashed shot from the edge of the area appeared goal-bound but a good block from Cooper meant the scores stayed a 2-0. Referee John Moss was called into action for the first time in the match moments later as George Boyd’s run was halted by a sloppy tackle from Shaun Cooper. The defender would have been worried about seeing red as Boyd was storming through on goal, albeit a long way out, but John Moss was probably correct in brandishing the yellow card instead.
All of a sudden though Posh seemed to take their foot of the gas. Bournemouth began to get a foothold in the match and were enjoying large periods of possession. Indeed, for all of Posh’s attacking talent Bournemouth also were looking lively in the attacking positions as they began to settle. It wasn’t long before they were rewarded for this pressure either. After earning a corner the visitors pilled men in on goal-keeper Joe Lewis, a set-piece they had obviously worked on in training, and it could not have worked any better. Lewis, who was trapped, attempted to come for the cross and completely missed the ball leaving DANNY INGS free to poke the ball into an empty net. It was a bad mistake from Lewis who further confirmed his need to work on his ability to command his area; something that has not improved since joining Posh in 2008.
The goal had given Bournemouth the confidence to search for more. They were back into a game that had appeared dead and buried after 20 minutes of play. And almost immediately a rasping, long range drive from Ings was saved well by Lewis with the ball swerving in numerous different directions.
It was Posh who were hoping for half-time now. They desperately needed to regroup as they appeared a little disjointed in both their defensive play and ability to retain possession. But Posh are still dangerous when they are on the attack, even when playing poorly. And after earning a corner Grant McCann floated the ball onto Ryan Bennett’s head who flicked the ball goalwards. The header was lacking power but it found its way to CRAIG MACKAIL-SMITH, standing unmarked, and although he almost failed to make contact he did just enough to see the ball creep into the corner of the net. It was harsh on Bournemouth but Lee Bradbury would have been mightily frustrated to see his side get back into the game only to allow Posh restore their two goal advantage through a scrappy goal.
The half time break came at a perfect time for Posh. Under pressure from a resurgent Bournemouth side who seem to love battling back from adversity – the story of their past few seasons is simply staggering – they were lucky to have clear daylight between themselves and the visitors after 45 minutes.
ERROR PRONE: Lewis was responsible for some awful goalkeeping and was at fault for two of Bournemouth’s three goals.
The opening of the second half was a fairly even contest. Whilst neither team could really claim to have the upper hand both were producing some slick passing moves which were easy on the eye. Still, Lee Bradbury obviously felt this tactic wasn’t working to the desired effect and choose to change his teams style by introducing the veteran Steve Fletcher. With the club legend on ‘The Cherries’ would have to start to play a more direct style and their change of formation to a flat 4-4-2 also suggested that they hadn’t given up on taking some points from this game just yet.
You could hardly blame them either. Gone was Posh’s deadly attacking force and they seemed content to sit back on a lead. Complacency may have crept into their game, for the first time this season, and it was evident that their performance levels and tempo had dropped. Still, Lee Tomlin went close after Danny Ings had been millimetres away from doubling his and Bournemouth’s tally for the evening.
Bournemouth, just like they had in the first half, were starting to take the initiative as the half progressed and although not creating anything clear-cut they certainly had Posh pressed back inside their own half. With STEVE FLETCHER up-front it gave them an added dimension to attack from and it would be the veteran that provided them a route back into the match. After a looping cross was put into the box the player/assistant manager was surrounded by two Posh defenders in a fairly innocuous position but somehow he managed to not just win the header but send the ball back over Joe Lewis’ head and into the back of the net from the tightest of angles. If Fletcher meant this then it was a moment of sheer quality.
It set up a nervy last twenty minutes and despite having the lion’s share of possession and territory Bournemouth had still not created a clear-cut chance throughout. Despite this they were still looking impressive, that much could not be argued and the game was now far from over. For the hosts Grant McCann went close from a long range free-kick but found the top of the net rather than the back of it as Posh looked to finally kill the game off.
As the assistant lifted his board to reveal four minutes of added time it was to be one of the most crucial periods of Posh’s season. Hold out and it was a good win that would put the pressure on Southampton and Huddersfield, the other two contenders for second spot, to win their games on Saturday but anything else would mean the automatic promotion would become an outside chance. An eerie silence seemed to creep across London Road, it was as if they now something was about to happen. And then it hit. A tame shot from ADAM SMITH on the edge of the area somehow squirmed under Joe Lewis and into the back of the net. It was a basic save that should have been stopped. There was no excuse for Lewis. There was no excuse for Posh. To let this lead slip, at such a pivotal point of the season was inexcusable and as the final whistle blew fans frustrations were they for all to see.
One man is to blame for last night. Joe Lewis. Two huge errors cost us. An error from him let a goal slip against MK Dons too. He has cost us 3 points in 3 games at the most crucial point of the season. It’s easy to point at the amount of saves he has made this season. He is a good goalkeeper, he does have potential. But for some reason he doesn’t seem to be able to sustain his form for a lengthy period of time. Too many times has he made errors like these in his career and although he is young does he really appear to be improving at the things he needs to? He still fails to command his area and he still makes too many inexcusable blunders.
I suppose it leaves the question of should he be dropped? The problem for Lewis is that he is a goalkeeper who plays on confidence. Dropping him may cause more damage than good. In-fact we don’t truly know how good Paul Jones is: is he any more commanding or less error prone than Lewis? Yet Ferguson has been fairly ruthless in replacing people for their mistakes since his return so it will be interesting to see who starts against Dagenham on Tuesday night now.
The play-offs seem likely. Automatic promotion is a huge long-shot and we are now particularly reliant on others slipping up. But, if we win all our games Southampton remain the only team who can be ahead of us. We’re probably going to have to win every single game from now until the end of the season to stand a chance of automatic promotion. But we’re still in a better position at this point than anyone could have imagined when Ferguson arrived.
Up The Posh