Posh could consider themselves slightly lucky to grab a point after contesting a scrappy affair against Colchester United.
Darren Ferguson had hinted that he would have made changes to his team at the weekend had he known that the pitch would have been so poor so it wasn’t too surprising to see James Wesolowski return to the starting line-up, dropping into central midfield, at the expense of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. The change provided Posh with more ‘bite’ in the midfield whilst Lee Tomlin returned to his favoured position up-front. John Ward’s Colchester side had struggled on the road of late but he named the same starting eleven as he had for the previous two games.
The atmosphere at London Road was subdued from the off-set. A succession of big fixtures in terms of the promotion race, against Southampton, Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday in recent weeks had been focused on far more than fixtures against Colchester United and Tranmere United, both with outside chances of making the play-offs, rightly or wrongly, and the mood reflected this. The game started quickly though with both teams missing early chances. The visitors went close first when Lloyd James was gifted too much time to get a shot off but Joe Lewis palmed the ball away. Posh countered almost instantly when Craig Mackail-Smith checked inside of his marker before curling a shot which Ben Williams, in the Colchester United goal, could only parry back into the feet of George Boyd but the talented winger couldn’t generate enough power on his shot to give Posh the lead. Boyd would have been disappointed to miss the opportunity, as he looks to regain the form that inspired Posh to a promotion last time they were at this level.
Although neither side seemed to be producing sparkling football on a pitch that did not encourage “the beautiful game” the game had started in action packed fashion. Both sides had managed to gain some early pressure and the attacking threat of both teams was causing problems. However, it was Posh who would make the first telling break-through of the match though when Lee Tomlin and GEORGE BOYD exchanged passes outside the box before the latter lashed home a powerful drive into the back of Ben Williams net.
Posh had momentum now and were quick to look for the chance to extend their advantage. Lewis sensed the chance to counter as he launched a long-throw to Mark Little who was flying forward at pace and when the full-back slotted a pass back inside for Lee Tomlin the former Rushden man curled a shot against the outside of the post from the edge of the area.
Despite the lead Posh had been nowhere near the best. Struggling to find a player in a blue shirt and panicking defensively the performance had, at times, been reminiscent of something that the team had produced far too often under Gary Johnson. Colchester’s direct approach was evidently causing problems as Kayode Odejayi’s physicality was proving hard to deal with. It wasn’t long before the visitors capitalised on Posh’s defensive weaknesses either. A relatively innocuous cross was not dealt with properly by the Peterborough defence and IAN HENDERSON was granted far too much space to float the ball over Lewis’ head and into the top corner. In-truth Henderson may have been intending to knock the ball across goal for the head of Odejayi but for Colchester the goal came as a huge relief for it was their first away goal in over 500 minutes of away football.
Posh then had a goal chalked off when Craig Mackail-Smith was flagged offside after he poked the ball over the line after Lee Tomlin had been brave to win a header from Nathan Clarke in the Colchester area. The striker seemed convinced that he had made his run from an on-side position and was quick to tell the referee’s assistant just that, clearly protesting about the decision. However, it was the visitors who looked the more likely scorers of the third goal as Posh’s defence continued to struggle. Indeed, Clarke and Odejayi were guilty of missing opportunities as the visitors bombarded Posh with long-throws and a succession of set-pieces.
As the first half neared its conclusion Mackail-Smith created a chance for himself but William’s acrobatically tipped the shot over the bar before Grant Basey poked a volley wide. The full-back was given space inside the area and may have felt that he should have done better with what was a decent chance.
When the first half reached its conclusion it was particularly evident that something wasn’t quite right for Posh. The side had looked fatigued but more worryingly bad habits from the Johnson era had been evident: too many hopeful balls had been hit forward and every time the ball went near the Peterborough box panic seemed to set in. Credit had to also go to John Ward who had certainly done his homework on Posh. He was leaving Henderson out wide to capitalise on the weaknesses of Ferguson’s favoured diamond formation, and time after time he had been free to run at an exposed Grant Basey. Ward had also told his midfield to defend deep, sitting just in-front of the back-four, to minimise the space for players like Lee Tomlin and George Boyd to roam and cause problems in.
Ferguson had realised his system hadn’t worked to the desired effect too. Mendez-Laing was brought on to add more attacking impetus and to utilise his pace, given the open nature of the match. James Wesolowski was the man to be replaced as Ferguson noticed the need for a little more craft and guile in his attack with the Colchester defence proving tough to break down.
Dreaming of better times: George Boyd, despite scoring, is struggling to find his best form.
Both ‘keepers were called into action early on in the second half from long-range efforts but neither was tested too heavily as clear-cut-chances remained hard to create. Even though the game was end to end Posh still looked disjointed and weren’t replicating some of the slick build up that has been displayed under Ferguson so far. In-fact it was the visitors who were again looking the more likely to score especially from the direct attacking routes they had available to them such was the physicality they possessed in their side. Nathan Clarke’s long throw had created chaos all night and Ben Coker, who had started the season on loan at non-league outfit Chelmsford, almost capitalised when he unleashed a volley at Lewis who did well to parry the shot.
The London Road crowd were becoming restless. Urged to go forward by their supporters Posh seemed intent on slowing the game down and playing countless number of passes along the back four without threatening Williams in the Colchester United goal. And these nerves from the crowd seemed to affect the players too as Posh continued to struggle. Restlessness almost turned to anger soon later though. David Mooney was inexplicably allowed to burst through both Posh midfield and defence to get on the end of a basic long-ball from Nathan Clarke and as he bore down on Lewis’ goal somehow Ryan Bennett charged back to make an inch perfect tackle to deny Mooney a definite goal. Bennett’s error against Tranmere at the weekend had been inexcusable but it was defending like this which has drawn top level club’s interest to the young centre back.
Charlie Lee almost provided Posh with an underserved lead when he powered a header just wide of goal from a Grant McCann corner. But the visitors were quick to continue to the pressure they had been exerting on the Posh defence. A succession of shots were fired on Posh’s goal but bodies were being thrown in-front of the efforts as Peterborough tried to avoid falling behind. It was a game the hosts could simply not afford to lose.
As the minutes ticked away The Posh simply weren’t looking like scoring. They had not created a meaningful chance and for all their endeavour nothing was coming off. George Boyd had a chance but his touch was heavy and he couldn’t make room for the shot. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing continued to charge and charge at the Colchester defence but his final ball was poor on countless occasions. In-fact Colchester almost snatched a late winner, as they did when the two teams met at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, when Ian Henderson smashed a shot from long-range it seemed that Lewis would make a comfortable save but he slipped at a crucial moment before adjusting brilliantly to tip the shot wide of the post.
As the fourth official indicated there would only be three minutes of added time Posh were becoming desperate. The game needed a moment of magic. After watching his team try and fail for most the match Mackail-Smith decided to take matters into his own hands. Collecting the ball on the half-way line the jet-heeled striker set off, sprinting past two Colchester defenders before smashing an effort on goal but Ben Williams did wonderfully well to tip the ball out for a corner. Grant McCann’s delivery was good but the ball trickled past everybody in the six yard box before Posh forced another corner. After seeing the trouble the first set-piece had caused the second one was put into exactly the same place and this time somebody did react. Unfortunately for the hosts it was Andy Bond and he hooked the ball away, facing his own goal, to preserve his team’s point.
It had been a frustrating evening for Posh. In terms of the table we did not fall any further behind the automatic places as results elsewhere went our way but to make automatic promotion you must capitalise when others slip up. It is no good simply matching others now; we must better them. However, automatics remain a long shot and play-offs seem our most likely way of gaining promotion – too much time has been wasted playing mediocre football under Johnson. What this draw has done is turned Oldham into a game that is now a must win if we harbour ambitions of automatic promotion. A loss there would be disastrous and would even begin to make us look nervously over our shoulders at teams below us.
However, we have had three tough fixtures where we have had to dig-deep in a week and have achieved 7 points. That, in any context, is not disastrous in a league where teams continue to show their vulnerability and slip up on a regular basis. Last night’s performance was not sparkling. It was our worst since Ferguson has taken over in-fact but we still managed to get a point against a decent outfit in Colchester. A signal of how far we have came under Ferguson, I believe. We would have crumbled under Johnson, just like we did on numerous occasions during his reign at home and away. Promotion remains the aim and despite this set-back we are still reasonably well-placed.
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