Posh swept aside Exeter City to continue their good form of late, winning 3-0 at London Road.
February ‘Manager of the Month’ Darren Ferguson named the same team that had started in the 5-0 win against Oldham last weekend. This meant that Lee Tomlin had to wait on the substitute bench whilst David Ball continued up-front. Paul Tisdale set his side up in a 5-3-2 formation; seemingly to try to swamp Peterborough’s attacking talent. Veteran striker Jamie Cureton started up-front alongside former Manchester United youth product Daniel Nardiello whilst the highly rated Liam Sercombe and Ryan Harley were amongst the central midfielders.
The London Road faithful were used to seeing their team fly out of the traps; throwing men forward at every opportunity. But the opening to this game was rather different. Posh were seeking to build their attacks from the back with Grant McCann – playing in the defensive midfield role – dictating the play. Indeed, Exeter were simply struggling to get the ball back and gain any meaningful possession. The patient build-up had threatened to create the hosts chances early on but some good defending from the Grecians had kept them at bay. However, when McCann had successfully exchanged passes with two or three Posh players he placed a clever through ball into the path of GEORGE BOYD who turned and unleashed a dipping shot which Ben Hamer, in the Exeter goal, could not reach.
Posh’s early goal had provided them with confidence but the game was being played at a slow pace. Whilst the hosts rarely looked threatened they were seemingly content to be one-nil up and were not as “gung-ho” in their approach as they have been in many games this season. The centre of the pitch was congested due to both team’s formations – with the majority of the players playing in central roles – and it meant that there was a lot of space down the wings for the full-backs to attack; something Ferguson has actively encouraged since his return to London Road. Mark Little capitalised on this space, bursting down the wing, and getting beyond Troy Archibald-Henville to go clear on goal but his shot, from a tight angle, went well wide of Hamer’s far post.
The remainder of the half was played out in a similar manner to the opening 20 minutes. Neither side were creating much in an attacking sense but it was hard not to be impressed by Peterborough’s movement and ball retention. Exeter had struggled to get hold of the ball for a sustained period of time once in the first half and it meant that Posh had simply not been threatened. And whilst a 1-0 lead remains a fragile scoreline Peterborough had shown no signs of letting the lead slip during the first 45 minutes.
Paul Tisdale had evidently told his side to put more pressure on the Peterborough United team at half-time with Steve Tully immediately stepping out of defence to press Ryan Bennett into making a rushed pass. Whilst the visitors were happy to sit back and soak up Posh pressure in the first half they would not be content on doing so for 90 minutes. This, however, can be a dangerous game to play against the top home scorers in the divisions due to their ability on the counter-attack.
Exeter’s greater attacking intent was starting to pay off and they had arguably started the second half the better of the two sides. Daniel Nardiello smashed a half-chance over the bar, after cutting inside well. But more worrying for the home supporters was the fact that their side had started to look a little vulnerable in possession at times, with miss-placed passes beginning to become a common feature of the match – much to the London Road fans frustration.
Daddy Cool: Two goals and an assist meant Boyd capped off the week where his first child was born in style.
Darren Ferguson reacted to Posh’s relative sloppiness in possession, when compared to their composed passing in the first half, by bringing on Lee Tomlin to replace David Ball up-front. The substitution almost paid off instantly but Tomlin smashed his effort over the bar after a wonderful pass from Grant McCann had freed Craig Mackail-Smith to pull the ball back to the former Rushden man.
Whilst Paul Tisdale turned to former Posh player Richard Logan to try to make something happen for his side Posh still remained relatively untroubled. In-fact Joe Lewis was yet to make a save as the game progressed over the hour mark. However, Exeter were now having their best spell of the match as they committed more men forward forcing The Posh to defend for a lengthy period for the first time.
As many teams have found out this season though when you commit men forward and grant Posh more space to attack it can cost you and it wasn’t long before Exeter learnt this lesson. A swift Peterborough United attack led to Grant McCann giving Craig Mackail-Smith a chance to run at Archibald-Henville and when the jet-heeled striker got passed his man he cleverly slotted the ball back to GEORGE BOYD to place the ball into the back of the net from close range. It had been the perfect way to celebrate the birth of his newly born daughter and it wasn’t long before the clichéd sucking of the thumb celebration was on display.
The game was over as a contest now and both teams seemed to realise this as the tempo of the game slowed again. Ryan Harley did force Joe Lewis into a comfortable save from a well struck free-kick but the visitors continued to find it impossible to create anything clear-cut. In-fact it was Peterborough who extended their lead when CRAIG MACKAIL-SMITH burst clear of the last defender and finished well beyond Hamer. This goal means that the only team in League One that Mackail-Smith hasn’t scored against in his career is Bournemouth, a side who are yet to visit London Road. Substitute James Wesolowski wasted a good opportunity to improve Posh’s goal difference further, missing the target from close-range, but Peterborough United would have been very happy with their performance when the full-time whistle blew.
For Darren Ferguson it was almost the perfect performance. Three goals scored and none conceded. Whilst it was not the most entertaining of spectacles for fans Posh had been the dominant team throughout and had always looked assured. The passing was accurate, the finishing was clinical and the defending was solid – something that Posh fans will not have had the opportunity to say much this season. It was the performance of a team chasing promotion and the improvements that Fergie JNR has made are clear to see.
Particularly impressive today were the performances of Grant McCann, Ryan Bennett and Craig Mackail-Smith. McCann dictated the play from midfield and was at the heart of every Posh move. Whilst his passing was slightly erratic for a brief period in the second half he remained a key player defensively and offensively for Posh and it was his craft that opened up the space for many Peterborough United chances – shown by the fact he managed to add another assist to an already impressive total. Ryan Bennett has seemingly matured as a defender of late and looks comfortable in possession whilst also being convincing defensively. Him and Gabby Zakuani are forming an impressive partnership and having these two at the heart of Posh’s defence is part of the reason why Darren Ferguson has already seen his side keep more clean sheets than Gary Johnson did in his entire time at Peterborough United. And, finally, Craig Mackail-Smith is turning into a real Posh legend. Wearing his heart on his sleeve he can single-handedly carry this team at times. The improvements in his game this season have been startling; no longer does he panic in-front of goal but he has become a clinical striker and also creates more for others than he ever has before. The man appears to be on a one man mission to get Posh promoted.
Performances like this may not be the most entertaining for the fans – the moaning from certain sections was completely unnecessary – but I felt it made a refreshing change to see Posh looking comfortable for 90 minutes, arguably the first time this season we have done so. And we just continue to improve under Ferguson. The extra money that Darragh spent in the summer is starting to look justified as this team goes from strength to strength. Ferguson has managed to tighten up the defence whilst maintaining that we still score freely and this combination, with an increased consistency in our game, has put us in a brilliant position to make the automatic spots. If Southampton, Huddersfield and Bournemouth – the latter two we still have to play – slip up it seems that we are now going to be able to pounce. A play-off position has now gone from being our top aim to simply a safety net if we fail to make the top 2.
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