A solid defensive performance gave Posh the foundation they needed to secure a vital 1-0 victory over Notts County at Meadow Lane.
Darren Ferguson’s team selections are fairly predictable nowadays. The diamond formation seems to be his favoured one and the starting XI always remains a familiar one, not that he has had any reason to make drastic changes to his side since his return. Again Ferguson’s team remained similar to the one that had played the last game, a 3-0 win over Exeter, with only one change being made to the starting line-up; Lee Tomlin replacing David Ball up-front.
Paul Ince bolstered his squad with three new signings recently in Ivan Sproule, Njogu Demba-Nyren and Febian Brandy all joining the ranks at Meadow Lane and all three were involved with the first team for this match. Demba-Nyren started up-front with Craig Westcarr whilst Febian Brandy and Ivan Sproule were named amongst the ‘County’ substitutes.
If Posh had been given confidence from their recent good form the start of the game did not reflect this. In-fact it was the hosts, who had won just 2 of their last 12 games, who were on top for much of the early periods of the match. Parked heavily inside the Peterborough United half Notts County were keeping possession well, spreading the play and causing the Posh defence to maintain their discipline. The pace and power of Demba-Nyren was proving a problem and it was the tall striker who had the first effort of the match, crashing a powerful shot into the face of Charlie Lee.
Posh may have crumbled under this early pressure earlier in the season but they are a different team under Ferguson and fended it off well. Indeed, it wasn’t long before the first chance for the visitors came. A Grant McCann delivery caused chaos in the Notts County box, with Stuart Nelson in goal failing to claim the ball, and an almighty scramble ensued. First, a Craig Mackail-Smith shot was blocked before another Posh volley was saved well by Nelson, charging out off his goal-line. The rebound fell to Gabriel Zakuani on the edge of the area, a chance for a more technically gifted player with an unguarded net in-front of them, but the defender could not make sufficient contact with the shot and the chance came to nothing.
As the first half progressed both teams were guilty of giving away possession cheaply. Grant McCann, who had seen a lot of the ball, was not as accurate with his distribution as he has been for much of the season so far and as a result it was setting the trend for the team. McCann is the man who dictates the play, in the defensive midfield role, covered by the battling figures of Charlie Lee and Tommy Rowe and it is often when he plays well that Posh do. One thing that the Northern Irish International does offer regardless of how well he is playing though is dangerous set-pieces and when Posh got a free-kick, central and 20 yards out it looked well within his range. And when the blonde haired central midfielder made good contact it seemed that he had given Posh the lead but the curling effort cannoned back off the post and away to safety.
If Peterborough had expected to kick-on after this effort and create more chances they were to be mistaken. The rest of the half was played at a rather slow tempo and both teams were struggling to find their rhythm. Chances were a rarity, although George Boyd and Demba-Nyren did come close for their respective teams, and the half-time whistle would have came as a relief to both managers who had a lot to work on in an attacking sense.
MATCH WINNER: Charlie Lee produced a moment of magic to inspire Posh to a 1-0 victory.
Ferguson would have reminded his team that they had been drawing 0-0 with Oldham at half-time, in their most recent away match, before going on to destroy them in the second half and the large contingent of away support would have been hoping for a similar outcome. County, on the other hand, would have been content with the way they had dealt with Posh’s attacking threats and Paul Ince would have just had to point towards Posh’s goal against tally this season for his players to realise they had a chance of gaining all three points.
With the game in the balance it was imperative that both sides started the second 45 minutes well but Posh found themselves penned back inside their own half, as they had at the start of the first half, and were still continuing to have trouble breaking down a competitive Notts County team. Paul Ince had them playing in two fairly rigid banks of four and it had meant that they offered their opponents very little room to play. As a result the visitor’s flair players and typical creative outlets were struggling to assert themselves on the match. It was the performances of the more defensive minded players of the team that were impressing more with both Ryan Bennett and Gabriel Zakuani looking solid at the heart of the Posh defence.
But just before the hour mark, as the game seemed to be heading towards a scrappy 0-0 draw, CHARLIE LEE provided a moment of genius. Collecting the ball on the half-way line he carried it 50 yards, driving past Notts County defenders and finding space on the edge of the host’s box. With options left and right of him Lee weighed up his options before choosing the best one. A delicate, yet powerful, chipped shot from Lee looped over the stranded Nelson and into the corner of the net to give his team a vital lead. It had been a game that needed a moment of magic and Charlie Lee had provided one with this strike.
Whilst the Posh support raised the volume levels inside Meadow Lane the home fans had become frustrated by their side’s performance so far – although they had enjoyed large periods of possession they had been largely wasteful with it and were yet to create a clear-cut opportunity in the game. Craig Westcarr had looked disinterested from the start and Alan Gow, a talented attacking player, appeared reluctant to shoot getting into a number of good positions before choosing to pass rather than test Joe Lewis who had been relatively untroubled.
Paul Ince turned to pace to get his side back into the game. Westcarr and Ravenhill were withdrawn for Ivan Sproule and Febian Brandy as Notts looked for the equaliser. And both were involved in the action almost immediately. The former smashed an ambitious effort well over the bar before Brandy played through Neil Bishop, in space on the edge of the area, but a wonderful sliding tackle from Grant McCann thwarted the chance.
Time was running out for the hosts and they were becoming increasingly desperate with long-range efforts being the main source of hope for County. So far they had been largely wasteful with them but when the ball fell to Kevin McDonald 25 yards out it took a fantastic save from Joe Lewis to turn the ball away. The ‘keeper would have seen the shot late, with the effort travelling through a number of players, and it took all of his 6ft 6inch frame to reach the goal-bound attempt. It proved to be the last nervous moment for Posh before the referee blew the final whistle, much to the relief of Posh fans and players alike.
I’d love to know Ferguson’s secret. How has he gone to getting a side that leaked goals to look so solid defensively in such a short space of time? Cohesive as a unit, we now don’t panic every time the ball if lifted into our box and simply play our way out of trouble. Confidence is growing and the team are excelling. Despite still having a goal against tally that is fitting of a team in the relegation zone we have now conceded just 2 goals in 6 games and this is our third clean sheet in a row. Who said Ferguson can’t organise a defence?
The performance in particular was reminiscent to many in our last time at this level. Despite not playing brilliantly in an attacking sense we ground out an important victory. Indeed, it looked as if that game could have gone on for another 90 minutes and we would not have conceded. Notts County did not have a decent chance all game. And if we keep a clean sheet we win the game – we always score.
Bournemouth losing is a massive bonus for us as now, if we were to win all our games until the end of the season only Southampton can catch us. Bournemouth at home and Huddersfield away are turning into absolutely huge fixtures for us now but we must not be distracted by these games. We are on form now and it is important to take it one game at a time, especially in a league were inconsistency has plagued almost every team’s season so far. Attention turns to Carlisle at home now and three points is a must – if we stay unbeaten at home until the end of the season we will have a solid platform for promotion – but there is a huge game being played at Dean Court – Bournemouth vs Southampton – also and many fans will be nervously awaiting updates on that. Whatever happens in that game it appears a no lose situation. A Bournemouth win means Southampton can no longer catch us and promotion is in our hands. A draw will not favour either of them and a Southampton win means that Bournemouth will struggle to make it into the top two.
The position we are in now is a position that would have been inconceivable a few months ago. Credit to Darragh MacAnthony who getting rid of Gary Johnson before it was too late but if anyone was in doubt as to whether Ferguson’s return would be a good thing for us then this fears must have been cast aside now. I hate making predictions but, honestly, I believe we are going up this season. There is a massive buzz about this club at the minute and I don’t see us slipping up.
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