A last minute equaliser denied Posh the three points that they had tried desperately hard to grab against an impressive Huddersfield side.
Has there been a bigger game than this in the entire division this season? In the context of automatic promotion it was massive. An away win would see The Posh jump ahead of Huddersfield and put them in pole position to capitalised if Southampton did slip up. For the hosts a win would see them jump six points ahead of Posh and surely end their automatic promotion ambitions this season.
Darren Ferguson chose to stick with his ‘diamond’ formation but was forced into moving Charlie Lee to right back and bringing in Grant Basey at left back after Mark Little and Tom Kennedy both were not fit enough to start. David Ball retained his position in the starting line-up meaning Lee Tomlin remained on the bench. Lee Clark’s side adopted a more conventional 4-4-2 approach with Benik Afobe, on loan from Arsenal, and Jordan Rhodes chosen as the preferred two forwards in a team that possesses a wealth of attacking talent – Alan Lee and Lee Novak both started on the bench.
Right from the start it was clear that Peterborough United wanted to win this match. There was an added tempo to their game; pressing off the ball in numbers they were quick in possession too and the pace of their movement on and off the ball was immediately causing problems. When the ball flew up in the air after a deflected shot both Craig Mackail-Smith and James Wesolowski were positioned well and allowed too much time to take the ball down. The latter took control and fired a cross over to George Boyd who flicked the ball goalwards but an outstanding save from Ian Bennett, formerly of Posh, diverted the ball over the bar and away.
The atmosphere was electric, with both sets of supporters contributing, and the game wasn’t disappointing either. Still, it was Posh who were on top. Huddersfield were simply struggling to gain any significant possession and Grant McCann was being given a lot of time to dictate the play. George Boyd had shot just wide but even with all their possession the away side probably should have found themselves 1-0 down. A quick throw in resulted in Gabriel Zakuani allowing Benik Afobe space and as he was found in a good position by Scott Arfield it seemed he would make Posh pay. However, the striker’s touch was woeful taking the ball away from himself and into the arms of Joe Lewis who could collect easily.
It would have been harsh on the away side who had dominated the proceedings so far at the impressive Galpharm Stadium. And even if this missed opportunity worked as an encouraging sign for the hosts they could do nothing to stop Posh at the minute. James Wesolowski smashed a volley into the side netting and then Tommy Rowe was granted space to line-up a shoot from distance. The result was a wonderful, rasping drive which Bennett could only parry. With Mackail-Smith ready to pounce it seemed that he would be there to apply the finishing touches but he was denied by a superb tackle from Peter Clarke in a Huddersfield defence who were determined to extend their side’s record to 6 clean-sheets in a row.
The home side may have been nicknamed ‘The Terriers’ but it was Posh who were playing like them and Huddersfield could not live with their visitors for large periods. Quick to close down, Peterborough were first to every second ball and just seemed to want to win more than the hosts who were not showing the same desire. Even so their threat remained and as the half wore on they were posing more of a threat. As a result, they had their second clear-cut chance of the match. A far post cross searched for the head of Danny Ward but his header was stopped by Joe Lewis who had managed to scramble across his goal. The goal-keeper’s touch though fell to the feet of Jordan Rhodes, unmarked, in-front of goal but his shot was stopped by Ryan Bennett who was well positioned on the line.
The hosts were having their best spell of the match but as is so often the way in football it was now that Peterborough seized the initiative. Another Posh attack caused havoc in the Huddersfield box and Lee Peltier miss-hit his clearance straight to Mackail-Smith. With the division’s leading scorer in a good position Peltier was eager to make amends for his initial error. Over-eager. He initially won the ball with a slide-tackle but it was still there for Mackail-Smith to get and as he reacted quicker the defender stuck out a hand to stop the striker from getting to the loose-ball and took him down. The referee had no other choice but to point to the spot. GRANT MCCANN stepped up and went through his usual routine. A hush crept over the stadium; this was massively important. But McCann remained confident and dispatched his penalty beyond Bennett, who had guessed the right way.
Posh now needed to see the first-half out. A lead at half-time would provide them with a solid foundation to build upon and force Huddersfield into pushing more men forward, something that is always dangerous with Posh so deadly on the counter attack. However, the lead appeared as if it would be short lived as Afobe was played through, 8 yards out, with a chance to amend for his earlier miss. The striker though, somehow, managed to completely miss-kick his shot and it went well wide of Lewis’ goal.
It was to be the last action of a very energetic half. Posh would have been delighted with their display so far. No-one could deny their lead wasn’t deserved. Huddersfield had been second best so far and, although they created their own chances, they could have also been further behind. The next half was to be the biggest 45 minutes of both team’s seasons so far.
TRANSFOMRED: Peterborough United are a totally different team under Ferguson than they were earlier in the season when Gary Johnson was in-charge.
Lee Clark was evidently not happy with his sides first half display and brought on Joey Gudjonsson to replace Danny Ward for the second half. Gudjonsson adopted a deep-lying role in the centre of the pitch, seemingly to deny George Boyd the space that he had been granted. Posh’s system remained un-changed.
Clark had evidently told his defenders to mark Mackail-Smith more tightly. Every time he got the ball he was pressured by a member of the Huddersfield defence and, indeed, this added impetus on closing down was shown throughout the pitch as the hosts looked to improve on their disappointing first half performance. However, sometimes this pressure was being applied un-fairly and when Mackail-Smith was manhandled by Clarke the referee had no option but to give Peterborough a free-kick in a dangerous position. McCann searched out a far post cross and Mackail-Smith met it with his head but Bennett was there to make a relatively comfortable save.
The game had slowed down in terms of chances now. Posh were less committed to pushing men forward and Huddersfield just didn’t seem to be able to break down a Peterborough defence who had performed resolutely so far. Fouls were creeping into the match and both sides picked up their first bookings of the match. Charlie Lee saw a yellow card for dissent and the referee brandished the same colour for the second time in the game towards Gary Naismith for grabbing hold of Mackail-Smith’s shirt. The striker was being unfairly treated by a number of members of the hosts defence by this point.
Jordan Rhodes had been surprisingly quiet for much of the game so far and Lee Clark chose to replace him with Lee Novak as ‘The Terriers’ looked to grab an elusive equaliser. Still, though Ryan Bennett and Gabriel Zakuani stood strong and both were having excellent games at the heart of the defence. In-fact it wasn’t the onslaught that many expected as the game crept over the 70 minute mark but this was just the calm before the storm.
Suddenly Huddersfield seemed realise what they needed to do: score. All of a sudden they awoke. Urged on by their supporters Huddersfield were creating chance after chance but not converting. Firstly, Afobe sprinted past the Posh defence before Lewis came to the rescue, saving well from close-range as the striker bore down on goal. Moments later Novak tried his luck but Lewis was equal to the shot, parrying it away to safety.
Posh were looking tired now and it was hardly surprising given the effort that they had put it. David Ball epitomised the work-rate that Posh had shown when he went down with cramp after sprinting after a loose-ball. This performance had been built on a high-pressure game and every member of the starting 11 had contributed to this. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing was brought on to replace Tommy Rowe as Ferguson realised his team’s need for fresh energy.
Huddersfield continued to mount wave after wave of attacks but just as Posh fans began to believe their side could hold Huddersfield struck. A great bit of trickery from substitute Jack Hunt saw him round Grant Basey, who did his best to foul Hunt before he reached the area, but the youngster escaped his grasp and made his way into the area before James Wesolowski’s attempted tackle, inside the box, upended Hunt and left the referee with no option but to give a late penalty to the home side. It was the perfect opportunity to level the scores. Gary Roberts stepped up. Chants of “Lewis, Lewis” began in hope at the away end, more in hope than expectation. The tension of the moment was almost tangible. Roberts hit it. Lewis guessed the right way. The ‘keeper saved it. A goal-keeper who has been under pressure from his own supporters after a succession of errors seemingly made amends in a split second.
This hammer-blow would have been enough to kill a lot of team’s challenges off but Huddersfield continued to attack in the manner that they had for much of the last 15 minutes. They had not given up. And they came close again when Kevin Kilbane was found in space on the edge of the area but somehow a combination of Lewis and Bennett denied the hosts of an equaliser before Bennett hacked the ball of the line. This was going to be Posh’s day.
Or was it? The fourth official announced that there would be 4 minutes added time. 4 more minutes for Posh to hold on. After what they had been through it seemed that the luck was in their favour. But then JACK HUNT escaped into the box after some poor defending from Grant Basey, cutting inside he hit the shot straight at Lewis but, perhaps unsighted, the ball somehow found its way past the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. Football is a cruel game. After giving everything the prize was there for Posh. It seemed that they would end Huddersfield’s unbeaten 19 game run but there is a reason that the hosts are unbeaten for so long: they never give up.
In the end no-one could really argue with the draw being a fair result. Both sides had given everything and the result was a fabulous advert for League One football. The draw hands the initiative to Southampton now. But a potential play-off final between these two teams is a tantalising prospect.
You couldn’t have asked for any more from us. Any questions of the players desire to achieve promotion can no longer be asked. They want it. Badly. Unfortunately we just couldn’t hold on for the 90 minutes but the effort from the players was tremendous and for large periods of the match, certainly throughout the first half, Huddersfield really struggled to contain us.
On a negative note another Lewis error has cost us. Basey should have done better and Lewis’ view may have been blocked off but he has to save shots like Hunt’s in the last minute. We now have 5 games that are a lot less important than they could have been – Ferguson will tell you automatics are still within our grasp but failing a minor miracle it will be the play-offs for us – and with an experienced goalkeeper sitting on the bench we may as well give him the opportunity to impress. If he isn’t good enough then why have we lined him up as a replacement when it looks likely that Lewis will leave in the summer?
I’m not sure my nerves will be able to stand the play-offs. It’s a horrible yet exciting prospect that awaits us. But after yesterday I’m covinced there is no other team that wants promotion more than us and we have proved that we should fear nobody. On our day we are more than capable of beating the best. See you all at Old Trafford!
Up The Posh.