Taken in isolation September 15 was a horrible day for Peterborough United, but looking at the bigger picture hardly soothes the pain.
A crushing defeat yesterday at the home of a Burnley side themselves short of confidence and form means Posh have picked up 18 points from 27 Championship matches in 2012, only four of which have been won.
Only George Osborne possibly views worse statistics on a daily basis and he too is operating far outside his comfort zone.
The Championship is tough for a club of Posh’s size, budget and stature, but that just makes it even more important to see every available penny spent wisely and every tactical decision proven to be the right one.
Manager Darren Ferguson pulled off a neat trick by appearing both subdued and furious in the post-match press conference. The initial reaction of the 350 Posh fans present was similar, only without the subdued bit.
Ferguson’s temper was tested most by his defenders. The supporters shared his concern, but were also confused by the defenders he picked, or didn’t pick in the case of captain Gaby Zakuani.
Opinions on players are flexible in professional football. Mere fans don’t see what goes on in training for a start, but when surprise changes end in a 5-2 hammering, tricky questions are inevitable and, to the layman, there appears to be plenty of muddled managerial thinking currently taking place at London Road.
Two of the players Ferguson placed on the transfer list at the end of last season are now first-team regulars. A centre-back signed in the summer is rooted to the substitutes’ bench while a midfielder believed to be the most expensive close-season purchase, and the subject of a two-month summer pursuit, now resides, uncomfortably
A captain appointed only in the summer has now been dropped and the armband is in the possession of Lee Tomlin, who remains a feisty complainer rather than a role model.
It’s a fact that Ferguson has not been helped by a dramatic loss of form from Craig Alcock, a star last season, and to a lesser extent Zakuani, but any regular Posh watchers consigned to a dirty battle in a trench would make the club skipper the first choice to fight alongside them.
Saturday’s team selection looked risky. This was a makeshift back four which was offered no protection by those in front of them. Grant McCann and Lee Frecklington have their skills. but creating a defensive shield is not among them.
Posh were in 4-4-2 mode with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and George Boyd given license to cut inside. Mendez-Laing was excellent on his first outing of the season, Boyd, whose achievements at Posh demand tolerance even though his positive influence on games is now rare, was terrible.
The Posh full-backs, particularly Alcock, were regulary exposed. Burnley had 13 shots in the first-half alone and must have sent twice as many crosses into the Posh penalty area.
And yet Posh were level at 2-2 at half-time and were more than holding their own after the break until three goals in the final 16 minutes, ironically after Zakuani had come on, produced a final scoreline that had looked inevitable from kick-off.
Burnley carved Posh open with their first attack, but Charlie Austin struck the top of the crossbar. Within a minute Frecklington and Boyd had set up Tyrone Barnett for a low shot that was superbly saved by home ‘keeper Lee Grant before Burnley midfielder Chris McCann arrived to head a left-wing cross into the net on seven minutes.
Burnley then peppered Posh with shots and crosses, but a reckless challenge from Jason Shackell on Mendez-Laing enabled Tomlin to equalise with a precise penalty in the 20th minute. Incredibly, given what had gone on in the previous 15 minutes, three minutes later Tomlin’s astute pass was accepted by Mendez-Laing who showed pace and composure to fire Posh in front.
Mendez-Laing almost bundled another Tomlin cross over the line, but Burnley were granted so much freedom when in possession, the Posh lead never threatened to become permanent.
Sure enough Austin skated around a couple of defenders before defeating Bostwick’s attempt to clear off the line six minutes before half-time and only some fine ‘keeping from Bobby Olejnik kept Posh level before and just after the break.
Once Olejnik had defeated Martin Paterson in a one-on-one situation on 52 minutes, Posh did settle down and compete fairly well. Chances were rare though making Tyrone Barnett’s decision to shoot from 30 yards when he had Mendez-Laing steaming forward unmarked on his outside even more disappointing.
But it was Austin who shot Burnley back in front from 12 yards and he completed an easy hat-trick after Olejnik had felled him inside the penalty area. Olejnik denied Austin a fourth goal with a fine save, but was powerless to stop Junior Stanislas converting the rebound.
And that was that apart from an angry manager’s press conference and a chairman’s attempt to deflect blame on to himself before announcing he would be reviewing his own performance over the weekend.
Quite what that meant may well be explained on Twitter today (September 16), but if Darragh MacAnthony loses his form the game really will be up.
Posh: Bobby Olejnik, Mark Little (sub Kane Ferdinand, 84 mins), Craig Alcock, Shaun Brisley (sub Gaby Zakuani, 59 mins), Michael Bostwick, Grant McCann, Lee Frecklington, Natahaniel Mendez-Laing, George Boyd (sub Emile Sinclair, 69 mins), Tyrone Barnett, Lee Tomlin. Subs not used: Joe Newell, Jonson Clarke-Harris, Natahaniel Knight-Percival
Burnley: Lee Grant, Kieran Trippier, Joseph Mills, Jason Shackell, Michael Duff, Chris McCann, Dean Marney, Junior Stanislas, Ross Wallace (sub Cameron Stewart, 63 mins), Martin Paterson (sub Sam Vokes, 63 mins), Charlie Austin (sub Brian Stock, 86 mins). Subs: Brian Jensen, Brian Stock, David Edgar, Ben Mee, Marvin Bartley.
Goals: Posh - Tomlin (pen, 20 mins), Mendez Laing (22 mins).
Burnley - McCann (7 mins), Austing (39 mins, 74 mins, & pen, 84 mins), Stanislas (86 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Olejnik (foul).
Burnley - Mills (foul).
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral) 7
Attendance: 10,979 (353 Posh)