A last minute Leyton Orient winner ended Peterborough United dreams of automatic promotion but re-ignited ‘The O’s’ play-off ambitions.
Darren Ferguson brought Lee Tomlin back into the Peterborough United first team as he took his place on the attacking tip of the diamond in midfield with George Boyd dropping back to the left prong of the midfield, to compensate for Tommy Rowe’s absence. It meant that David Ball and Craig Mackail-Smith stayed as the first choice striking duo. Russell Slade’s side adopted a more conventional approach using a 4-4-2 formation.
The opening of the game saw Posh dominate in the possession stakes. With Grant McCann at the base of the diamond, as is always the case under Ferguson, receiving much of the ball he was utilising it well and his passing was accurate. He is starting to become the heart-beat of this Posh side and it was McCann who created the first chance of the match. Swinging in a free-kick towards the far post the Northern Ireland midfielder showed why he has got so many assists this season – the only player in the division with more was playing for the opposition, Dean Cox – as it was perfectly weighted for Ryan Bennett to head home. The Posh celebrations were cut short though when referee, Iain Williamson decided that there was a foul in the area.
Despite a sizable amount of possession Posh were struggling to break down a resilient Leyton Orient. Terrell Forbes was dealing with Mackail-Smith well, matching him for pace and stopping him getting many opportunities. The quality of service was poor though and so far there had been a lack of cutting edge. Indeed, another free-kick was Posh’s best source of hope. This time Gabriel Zakuani flicked a header just wide.
A Grant McCann free-kick on the edge of the area is always a dangerous situation for an opposition side. This effort, though, was poor with the ball smashing into the wall, however, it bounced free in the area and when Mackail-Smith got to it ahead of Jamie Jones, in the Leyton Orient goal, he was brought down. The referee blew his whilstle. Posh fans celebrated: a penalty. But Mr. Williamson indicated that Mackail-Smith had fouled Jones, and to rub insult to injury he then booked the striker much to his disbelief.
Former Posh player, Scott McGleish who has had a nasty habit of scoring against the club since his departure, went limping off after a collision with Joe Lewis – arguably more than a foul than what Mackail-Smith had been booked for earlier – and was replaced by Jonathan Tehoue up-front. The front-man’s pace and power was proving an immediate problem for the Peterborough United defence. Leyton Orient had fought their back into the match and were enjoying a good spell themselves. Matt Spring played a wonderful, fizzing pass out to the left hand side – a source of a number of goals for Orient this season – to free Charlie Daniels, attacking from full-back, on the left hand side but the defender’s rasping drive went over the bar before Joe Lewis had to make a comfortable save from a Harry Kane long-range effort.
The first half drew to a close in a pretty tentative fashion. Neither side created anything of note throughout the 45 minutes that had been played so far, despite both sides unquestionably going for a win. The quality in the final third was poor and both sides had been guilty of squandering possession at crucial times, often un-pressured too. Both sides would have expected better in the second half.
MAKING AN IMPACT: Mendez-Laing impressed in a cameo appearance that will not have done his chances for a rare start any harm.
Russell Slade had obviously seen that McCann had been getting too much time on the ball and ordered Adam Chambers to push on to deny him so much room to dictate play. However, neither side felt it was necessary to make a substitution at the break. The second-half started in a similar manner to the way that the first had ended. It was an evenly contested match but it was a game starved of clear-cut chances. Grant McCann again went close with a set-piece but Jamie Jones was at full-stretch to tip the shot past the post.
The division’s leading scorer Mackail-Smith had been quiet so far, by his standards. With very little service he hadn’t had a chance to influence the game as he has many this season. However, when a Lee Tomlin pass found the space between the full-back and the centre back his eyes light up. Presented with space to run into and a chance on goal he unleashed a glorious effort just wide of the upright and into the stand from just inside the area.
There was an added urgency to both sides play. A draw was not a good result for either team, both intent on grabbing three points. David Ball surged past defenders and got a, left-footed, shot off from 18 yards which took a deflection; a deflection which took the ball right towards the corner. It seemed Jones was beaten but the ‘keeper pulled of a brilliant save pushing the ball round the post.
Orient were looking to counter and after a ball over the top of the Posh defence released Tehoue he sprinted past Gabriel Zakuani, who seemed to trip him the area. Appeals for a penalty were raised but the referee nonchalantly shook his head; denying any wrong doing. Any hard feelings towards the officials, from the home fans, were quickly forgotten though as it wasn’t long before they took the lead. Breaking down the right-hand side a cross went into a relatively empty Peterborough United penalty area. With little pressure on him, but facing his own goal, Zakuani tried to clear but ultimately diverted the ball beyond his own goalkeeper and into the top of the net, providing his former club with the lead.
It was a lead that Posh needed to eradicate. Quickly. With their automatic promotion hopes dangling by a thread Nathaniel Mendez-Laing was introduced, with David Ball coming off, to try to add pace, trickery and width as Ferguson reverted to 4-4-2. Immediately he was involved. His pace was scaring Daniels and he was finding it easy to round the defender. He had now became Posh’s main outlet ball. Daniels is a full-back who is better going forward than he is defensively and Mendez-Laing was capitalising, rounding the defender he pulled the ball back to Boyd who stood staring at goal from close-range but somehow he managed to not score. A combination of goalkeeper and defender seemed to deflect the shot wide but it was a chance that should have been scored. A chance that Posh could ill-afford to miss given their predicament.
The added width had caused some problems and when Posh earnt themselves a corner they realised that they needed to make these opportunities count. McCann’s delivery was excellent and NATHANIEL MENDEZ-LAING powered a header beyond a despairing Jones, who had no chance. Mendez-Laing may have been frustrated with the amount of first team opportunities he has been granted since joining Posh but with this sort of cameo appearance he was doing his chance of a start no harm.
As Posh attacked with added numbers they left themselves exposed at the back and were almost punished. Orient, still looking for a winner themselves, quickly broke and Dean Cox put in a wonderfully weighted cross to the far post which found an unmarked Ryan Jarvis but he could only flick his shot onto the outside of the post. With fatigue setting in and Gabriel Zakuani and Mark Little seemingly nursing injuries Posh were looking vulnerable but also threatening at the same time.
Mendez-Laing had caused so many problems since his introduction that Slade reacted by bringing on Jason Crowe, a quicker defender than Daniels, to try to counter-act the winger’s pace. He could do nothing though when the Wolves loanee won a header in the area only for George Boyd to smash a volley, and Posh’s last chance at automatic promotion, wide of the mark. It was a wonderful chance in the final minutes but Boyd’s poor game was encapsulated in that moment; effort and endeavour to get there but ultimately a lack of quality when it mattered.
As the game entered its final stages the action was frantic. Both sides needed the three points. It was the hosts that would grab them. When Jason Crowe was given time and space to pick out a cross he found RYAN JARVIS who attacked the ball, marked by a injured and fatigued Mark Little who couldn’t get to the ball, and planted it into the back of the net. It was a cruel ending for Posh but Leyton Orient had been more clinical than them on the day and, ultimately, this was the difference.
As the referee blew the final whistle every fan in the ground thoughts turned towards the play-offs. For Posh fans they were now resigned to entering this lottery, automatic promotion now effectively unachievable, whilst for Orient fans are dreaming their team can make them.
For us, Ferguson now has a dilemma. Does he rest the players in what are effectively three nothing games or does he try to regain some momentum for them? Worryingly the team are beginning to look fatigued, physically and mentally, at the wrong stage of the season. We cannot afford to keep giving away late goals due to this tiredness – partly caused by the system played which requires a lot of work, partly due to our own seemingly poor fitness levels.
Unbelieveably it seems we are heading into a play-off semi final with MK Dons. A team we have competed with for promotion and developed a rivalry with in recent times. It is as if this is inevitable. Almost like someone has written a script and this is the way to end it; in one final, high stakes, winner-takes-all game. We better hope the story will end in elation rather than heartbreak.
Up The Posh!