Despite dominating for large periods of the match The Posh succumbed to a third consecutive away defeat at the hands of Charlton.
Darren Ferguson made the surprise choice of bringing Tommy Rowe back into the starting line-up to replace Grant McCann. The formation, however, remained the same as Posh continued to use the diamond as their formation of choice. Chris Powell’s appointment at Charlton has given The Addicks a renewed hope of promotion and they went into this game full of confidence, having won all three of Powell’s previous games in-charge. Injuries meant that he had to bring Nathan Eccleston, on loan from Liverpool, into the starting line-up to partner Bradley Wright-Phillips up-front.
The hosts were quick to put Posh under pressure creating a succession of corners in the early stages but it was Posh who had the first chance of note in the game. Lee Tomlin collected the ball on the half-way line as Peterborough looked to mount a swift counter attack after clearing a Charlton set-piece well and he quickly set about showing the skill that has excited the Posh fans so much this season. A clever nut-meg of Alan McCormack allowed Tomlin to run straight at the Charlton defence and he cleverly slotted a pass into Chris Whelpdale, up alongside him, who couldn’t capitalise on a good opportunity dragging his shot wide of the far post.
It would have been the perfect start for the visitors who often start games slowly but even with the missed opportunity Darren Ferguson’s men were dominating proceedings. Short, sharp passing and clever movement from the attacking trio of Craig Mackail-Smith, Lee Tomlin and George Boyd was causing the visitors no end of problems and if it wasn’t for Rob Elliot’s awareness in goal Posh may have created some more early chances.
As the half progressed Posh continued to look the better side. Retaining possession well and looking dangerous in an attacking sense with the side continuing to make good use of the width of the pitch, bringing both full-backs into play on regular occasions. It seemed inevitable that they would create some more chances if they continued to attack in this manner and when one did fall to Lee Tomlin he could hardly have came closer. After capitalising on a sloppy pass from Johnnie Jackson he had a chance to run at Federico Bessone before smashing a shot on goal which was turned onto the inside of the post by Elliot with the ball bouncing clear.
Posh had hardly given Charlton a sniff so far but the hosts did produce a nice move to give Eccleston some space in the area but Joe Lewis was alert in the Peterborough goal, hurrying off his line to deny the Liverpool loanee of a chance to shot.
LEE TOMLIN had looked the best player on the pitch so far. His combination of exquisite skill and knowledge of the game is rarely found at this level and it seemed that Darren Ferguson had spotted this, with the manager giving Tomlin license to roam in the attacking positions. When the former Rushden player did pick up the ball it seemed he had it in a fairly innocuous position, out of the left flank, but a clever run saw him get to edge of the Charlton box before cutting inside, putting the ball between Jose Semedo’s legs, and curling a perfectly placed finish into the top corner of Elliot’s goal to give Posh a deserved lead.
Just as the visitors had gained some real momentum their progress was halted by a bizarre stoppage. Referee Mr. Webb went down in some pain seemingly under no contact. And after looking in sheer agony the stretcher had to be called for before he was replaced by fourth official Mr. Stewart. It had been the worst time for the stoppage to occur with Charlton now having a chance to regroup after the set-back, indeed it had been the first goal they had conceded since Powell’s appointment. However, Posh continued to press, even after the length stoppage, and a Tom Kennedy free-kick could only be pushed away by Elliot in the Charlton goal as the visitors looked to extend their advantage before the half-time whistle.
As the first half was brought to a close Posh would have been very happy with their display. It had been their best 45 minutes away from home and they had been the far superior team and should have already been out of sight. Charlton could have had few complaints if they were further behind but Posh had not been ruthless enough in-front of goal and the hosts were still in with a chance at 1-0. That said if Posh could maintain this standard of performance for 90 minutes it would be an uphill struggle for Charlton to get anything out of the game.
Continuing to impress: Lee Tomlin.
At the break Chris Powell chose to change his attacking contingent bringing Pawel Abbott on to replace Scott Wagstaff. Many teams would have sat back on their advantage and tried to see another 45 minutes out by defending but the word defending is not one in Posh’s vocabulary. Immediately the side started in search of an elusive second goal, pushing men forward in numbers. The attacking mentality almost paid off too. After a good pass from Tom Kennedy, Lee Tomlin was released, this time down the right hand side of the pitch, and he drilled a great cross into the box which sat perfectly for Craig Mackail-Smith to head into an empty net. Or so it would have seemed. However, somehow, Mackail-Smith, who has been on scintillating form in recent weeks, didn’t manage to make meaningful contact from three yards and the glorious opportunity went begging. Bewildered Posh fans turned to each other echoing one question: “how?!”
Posh continued the early onslaught on the Addicks goal though and Mackail-Smith went close again before George Boyd’s shot from the edge of the area was well held by Elliot. For a team like Posh’s defensive record 1-0 is not a safe position. And the numerous amount of chances that Peterborough had failed to capitalise on were making the large contingent of away fans nervous – you can only afford to miss so many of these opportunities before you are made to pay.
And all of a sudden Posh were. In the first bit of defending Posh had had to do all game they collapsed. Simon Francis, who had burst forward from right-back, put in a delicate cross to the far post for JOHNNIE JACKSON to head home, beating Chris Whelpdale in the air in the process. It had been a hammer blow for Posh. Charlton’s first chance of any note had given them the lead and all of a sudden The Valley had sprung to life.
The goal had provided the spark that the hosts had needed. Red shirts were pilling forward and the pressure soon became too much for Peterborough. After some slick build-up play, involving numerous Charlton players, Nathan Eccleston put in a very similar cross to the one that had led to the first goal, spotting Posh’s weakness, and BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS was there to head home, un-marked, at the far post. The striker had been quiet so far but it was this sort of composure in-front of goal that makes him one of the top marksmen in League One.
Somehow Posh had gone from seemingly having three points in the bag to having to fight back from behind. The visitors had been comfortable and completely dominated the game, limiting Charlton to a very limited supply of chances, to a team that could no longer string a pass together. All of a sudden the patient attacking play of Posh had turned into aimless hoof-ball, reminiscent of the Gary Johnson era, and panic had set in.
Due to this Charlton almost added a third. Firstly substitute Pawel Abbott went close and then Bradley Wright-Phillips came close to adding his second of the match but Joe Lewis stood firm in the Peterborough goal. Ferguson realised that his team were on the verge of collapsing and replaced Chris Whelpdale with the spritely Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, as Posh looked to have more pace on the counter to pose a different threat to the Charlton back-line containing two veterans in Christian Daily and Gary Doherty.
The substitution had worked and Mendez-Laing was providing an outlet ball for a Peterborough team that seemed to have lost their composure. Three times he rounded his marker before shooting, twice, and pulling the ball back once but Boyd inexplicable stepped-over the ball seemingly thinking someone was better placed behind him to take the shot on. Indeed, the substitute should have gained Posh a penalty, when he was clearly tripped inside the area, but the referee signalled that the foul had occurred outside the box.
But Charlton were now a different team. Posh had allowed them a route back into the match and they had taken it. Suddenly they seemed more confident and were playing the better football. It wasn’t long before the match was put beyond doubt either. Awful defending again from Posh allowed a succession of crosses to be put into the box, with none being cleared properly, and when the third cross was put hopefully into the box Charlie Lee’s header only reached Pawel Abbott on the edge of the area who lashed home a volley from the edge of the area. The effort took two deflections before finding the back of the net but Lewis will feel unhappy that he didn’t do better with the shot.
Posh don’t know when to give up though and when six minutes of injury time were shown it seemed to provide some sort of hope to their ambitions of snatching something from the match. Storming forward Peterborough began to put pressure on the Charlton defence and were playing their passing game again. It worked. Mark Little whipped over a cross to CRAIG MACKAIL-SMITH who lashed home a volley from close range. It was a good finish but if he had taken his chance at the start of the half rather than this one it may have been a far more meaningful one.
As the final whistle blew Posh fans left The Valley stunned. Three points had been let slip yet it was hard to remember Charlton creating a real clear-cut opportunity all game. For the majority of the match Posh had completely dominated proceedings but the hosts had proved more clinical. And Chris Powell terrific start to management continued.
Once again we were let down by a defence that can’t defend. If we had a competent defence we would cruising to the league title now. Of course, some of the blame must lie with Ferguson but he has inherited the problems of the Johnson regime. Kelvin Langmead continues to look a division out of his depth, in my opinion, and Mark Little needs time to develop. Gabriel Zakuani’s return cannot come soon enough but even that has its problems. Ferguson has Posh playing a slick passing game, right from the back, and Zakuani has his limitations technically which may mean that this doesn’t work quite as effectively as it has so far.
Although results, and the position in the table, suggest differently there has been a dramatic improvement in performances since Fergie’s appointment. We could, and perhaps should, have had 7 points from three tough away fixtures but were not clinical enough, and did not defend well enough, to take them. This has to be worked on. But gone are the days of hopeless, aimless, long balls and we are now playing slick passing football that suits our attacking talents.
I honestly believe it will not be long before we go on a lengthy unbeaten run, the fixtures become easier on paper for a while now, and we must capitalise. We are on the verge of something special here at Posh, I can feel it, and when it finally clicks, which I believe it will, we will go on a run. Whether this run takes is into the automatic places is debatable. Southampton, Charlton and Brighton are a long way ahead of us now. But will we make the playoffs? I’m almost certain we will.