A wonderful Peterborough United performance confirmed their automatic promotion credentials as they went on the rampage in a 6-0 victory of Carlisle.
Darren Ferguson’s Posh side were on a roll coming into this game. Three clean-sheets and three victories in a row meant that Fergie JNR felt no need to change his squad from the side that had beaten Notts County in mid-week. Carlisle manager Gregg Abbott brought in Harry Arter to his starting line-up, giving him his first start since signing on loan from Bournemouth.
There is now an expectation around London Road. An expectation that this Posh side will win rather than a lingering nervousness that three points could be chucked away at any given moment. And it is not only the fans that are in a confident mood the players are too. And it shows. Here Ferguson’s men, playing in a far more enjoyable environment, flew out of the traps and immediately found their grove. Within 80 seconds Grant McCann released Craig Mackail-Smith, who had capitalised on Carlisle’s surprisingly high defensive line, down the right flank and the striker was off. Out-pacing the last defender he steadied himself before putting the ball across goal for the on-rushing, un-marked TOMMY ROWE to slot home from 6 yards. It was Rowe’s 4th goal since Ferguson’s appointment and he is clearly relishing the central midfield role that Ferguson has tended to play him in.
The perfect start had given The Posh momentum. The passing was accurate, slick and creative with numerous players looking comfortable in possession. At the heart of everything was Grant McCann and when he fizzed a clever pass into Tommy Rowe’s feet the Carlisle defence was struggling to deal with the streams of blue shirts charging forward. As a result Lee Tomlin was given far too much space and when Rowe simply played the ball inside for him it seemed destined that the former Rushden player would increase Posh’s lead further. With time to steady himself and pick a spot Tomlin took aim but his shot, heading into the corner of Adam Collin’s goal, was miraculously saved by the goal-keeper who stretched out his right arm to turn the ball around.
Posh’s attacking display had been scintillating at times and it only seemed a matter of time before they were to create another chance. Again Grant McCann was the architect, playing a wonderfully weighted pass into the feet of Craig Mackail-Smith but the division’s top goalscorer scuffed his shot wide. In-truth it fell on Mackail-Smith’s left foot and sat at an awkward height but the striker would have expected to score. Not perturbed Posh continued the onslaught. Tommy Rowe headed over before great work from Mackail-Smith gave Charlie Lee the chance to smash a half-volley from the edge of the area but the central midfielder couldn’t keep the shot down.
Posh fans could have been forgiven for thinking their side may rue the amount of chances that they had missed so far. Despite putting in a brilliant performance and looking relatively comfortable so far there comes a time when you have to question whether it is going to be your day. It is a common occurrence to see a team dominate for large periods of the game, miss chances and leave empty handed. 1-0 is a dangerous scoreline. But just when the question marks loomed Posh broke through again. This time Charlie Lee floated a cross into the far post and CRAIG MACKAIL-SMITH sniffed a chance. Charging forward and beating his marker he powered a header into the far post that goalkeeper Collin had no chance of saving.
Despite the lead the game wasn’t entirely over as a contest just yet. Carlisle had came back from two goals behind against league leaders Brighton last weekend proving they had plenty of spirit. And as Posh lifted their foot of the gas a little hope of another unlikely comeback were ignited. Despite not creating anything clear-cut Carlisle had their best spell of the match, putting over some dangerous crosses and having a good claim for a penalty, as Gabriel Zakuani seemingly tugged at Francois Zoko’s shirt, turned down.
The hope was short-lived though. When GEORGE BOYD collected the ball on the edge of the area he still had a lot to do. With three Carlisle’s defenders ahead of him he rounded two before getting one-on-one with the ‘keeper. Boyd stubbed a shot straight at Collin but the goal-keeper parried, and when the ball returned to him he casually stroked the ball under the shot-stopper, beyond the reaches of two covering defenders, and into the back of the net. Boyd’s form has not been up to his normal standards of late but so far in the game he had been back to his best. Skilful, creative and playing with confidence he was like the Boyd that had provided Posh fans with so many happy memories when playing at this level before.
As the half-time whistle blew it had been a marvellous performance from Posh. 3-0 up and cruising Ferguson did not have to say much to his side; “just keep doing what you’re already doing” would have sufficed. Greg Abbott, on the other hand, would have been tearing his hair out. Despite Posh’s clever passing and creative attacking movement his defence had opened up on far too many occasions. Liam Cooper looked terrified at centre back and was constantly making errors whilst his central defensive partner, Peter Murphy, was fairing little better against a Posh side in full flow.
The visitors rallied in the early stages of the second half. Despite the game being up it was time for them to be professional. Their fans had travelled a long way – and had been a credit to them, not stopping singing despite the scoreline – and when Craig Curran’s header was expertly saved by Joe Lewis, who had been a spectator for much of the first half, it seemed that the second half at least would more of a competitive affair.
Initial appearances can be deceiving though and it didn’t take long for Posh to regain control. Swiftly moving the ball forward they showed no signs of letting up, or becoming more defensive, and when a series of quick, clever passes resulted in Craig Mackail-Smith being fouled by Frank Simek, who was simply left bemused by the pace of the attack, referee Trevor Kettle had little choice but to point to the spot. The reliable Grant McCann stepped up to take the penalty but his shot, which was reasonably well struck, was saved well by Collin who got down quickly to his right to turn the spot-kick away.
Games can change on moments like these but this miss seemed to only inspire Posh further. Picking the tempo of their attacks up even further Posh had the ball in the back of the net once more but Tommy Rowe was adjudged to have been offside when he played the ball into Mackail-Smith to score. Even with another set-back Posh continued to attack; they know how to play in no other way. And when George Boyd was sent one-on-one with Liam Cooper with room to run into beyond him, the midfielder just prodded the ball past the defender, who had already been booked, and drew the foul. Mr. Kettle duly produced the red card and Cooper was off. In-truth it probably came as a relief to a man who will be having nightmares about this game for weeks.
BACK TO HIS BEST: George Boyd put in a performance reminiscent of his scintilating form that has made him a club legend.
Surprisingly Greg Abbott chose to make no substitutions to compensate for Cooper’s dismissal meaning Carlisle simply changed to a 3-4-2 formation and as a result the hosts were granted even more space to attack into. It was the last thing that the over-worked Carlisle defence needed. Already struggling to contain Posh with 11 men, with 10 the task became impossible even when Darren Ferguson replaced Charlie Lee and Craig Mackail-Smith, with both receiving standing ovations, for substitutes David Ball and Arron Davies. Indeed, the latter immediately was in the thick of the action but his goal-bound volley was deflected over the bar.
Realising that Posh had acres of room to play their football Ferguson made another change. Tommy Rowe, who put in arguably his best performance in a Peterborough United shirt, was replaced by Nathaniel Mendez-Laing as Ferguson looked to width to stretch a three man Carlisle defence to breaking point. It almost worked instantly. With McCann pulling the strings, spraying passes left and right, the hosts always had a spare man in the wide areas and the pace of Mendez-Laing was proving a potent outlet. Further testing a Carlisle defence who were praying for the full-time whistle the winger on loan from Wolves was granted a glorious opportunity after a delightful cross from George Boyd found him un-marked but he dragged his shot wide of the near post and the chance went begging.
If you were being critical of Posh, which it was hard to be after such a brilliant performance, they should have had at least double the total of goals that they had already scored. Wonderful play had created chance after chance but a lack of ruthlessness had cost them in-front of goal. But Mark Robson has been credited for his work on set-pieces in recent weeks and it paid off again. After a scramble in the box RYAN BENNETT was given too much time and he powerfully volleyed the ball beyond Collin. The centre back would have been proud of the strike and he had shown many of the more attacking players exactly how to finish. This goal was the cue for Collin, in the Carlisle goal, to lose his temper. His defence had let him down and despite doing his best, he was easily the visitor’s man of the match, Posh had still stuck four beyond him.
With just under 15 minutes to go it was to get worse for the goal-keeper too. When Mendez-Laing escaped down the right hand touchline he floated over a cross that was flicked on by Lee Tomlin and found GEORGE BOYD. In space many would have chosen to take a touch and shoot but Boyd was brimming with confidence today. He lashed home a volley that took a slight deflection on its way beyond Collin and into the back of the Carlisle net for the fifth time.
Collin’s work for the day didn’t stop there either. After making a fantastic save from a point-blank David Ball header he was forced to stop a dipping Grant McCann drive from long-range that he would have seen late. And then, moments later, he was beaten for a sixth time. Mendez-Laing again found space a whipped over a cross which was expertly turned into the roof of the net by DAVID BALL. The January transfer has had little action in the first team but the signs are he could already be another marvellous attacking talent that Darren Ferguson has at his disposal.
As 4 minutes of injury time were displayed by the fourth official the Carlisle defence took up a collective pose. Hands on hips, heads down they looked dejected and had been out-classed. Posh hadn’t taken pity on them yet though. And when Boyd was put one-on-one for his hat-trick it seemed that he would cap of vintage Peterborough United performance but before he had the chance to score he was brought down by a combination of Carlisle goal-keeper and defender and Posh were awarded their second penalty kick of the game. With the match ball up for grabs Boyd was not letting McCann take the penalty away from him. But he smashed his shot wide of Collin’s left hand post just before the final whistle was blown to put an end to the visitor’s misery.
Well, what a result and what a performance. Sometimes words don’t do things justice. Sometimes you have to see something to truly gauge just how brilliant it is. And this Peterborough performance was one of these rare things. Has there been a better team performance in recent memory? I doubt it. Certainly there hasn’t been in the last two seasons. It was impossible to pick a man of the match. Too many people stood out. Little, Bennett and Zakuani were rock solid at the back. McCann was at the centre of everything Posh did well. Charlie Lee and Tommy Rowe pressed, passed and broke forward with vigour throughout. Mackail-Smith was everywhere, as per normal. And George Boyd was on top form. It was a truly magnificent team performance.
We have now scored 15 goals without reply, have kept 4 clean sheets in a row and have learnt not only how to win beautifully but how to win ugly as well. Within a week we have shown both sides to our game. Greg Abbott’s words summed up our performance today. The Carlisle manager stated “Tell me what I could have done, you tell me what I could have done? Because, I haven’t got an answer to that, we are down to ten men against the most prolific goalscoring team in the country at the minute, bar put a bus in front of the goal I don’t see what I could have done. I don’t think Jose Mourinho could have stopped that being six today, and I mean that, I absolutely mean that.” And when an opposing manager says that you know you have played well. Mourinho may have limited Barcelona to five when his Madrid side went to the Nou Camp but Abbott questions whether he could have stopped Posh scoring six.
Ferguson has got this team playing wonderful football. He has created a siege mentality. He has breathed new life into this football club and it has reinvigorated the club entirely. Now competent defensively, we press well, we pass well and we have even started scoring more frequently than before. It’s going to take something special to stop us. But at the minute it is just a privilege to be able to watch us play.
Up The Posh