The memo from Peterborugh United chairman Darragh MacAnthony requesting entertaining, attacking football appears to have been lost again, along with Dave Robertson’s managerial mojo.
Five natural defenders started yesterday’s (April 18) 1-1 draw at Barnsley and two centre-backs were left languishing on the substitutes’ bench as the home side pinched a point with a last-gasp equaliser from a corner.
It was a surprise to see a youth team striker sent on for his first-team debut with 60 seconds to go rather than Shaun Brisley or Christian Burgess - two men who might have been handy at defending a set-piece as well as a 1-0 lead. But then Ricardo Santos was deployed as a centre forward rather then one of the club’s striking legends when Posh were chasing a goal in their previous match which all suggests that coaching and tactics are beyond the football layman.
Posh played with 10 men for the final 20 minutes at Oakwell following a second red card of the season for Kgosi Ntlhe so a little defensive stubbornness would have been a priority then.
It shouldn’t have been for the previous 70 minutes as Barnsley fielded three teenagers in a four-man defence which looked susceptible whenever Posh managed to string a few passes together, or find one moment of creative inspiration. which sadly wasn’t very often despite the usual bucket-load of perspiration.
To be fair to Robertson, who has far more on the line than anyone else in the Posh camp the next few weeks, the tools at his disposal make goal-scoring difficult. The club still have hope that Conor Washington, who numbers MacAnthony among his biggest fans, will become the 20-goal-a-season striker every promotion contender needs (presumably when he improves his left foot, heading ability and develops a selfish sense of when to shoot) and in some respects 11 goals for a team that has very little attacking imagination is a reasonable effort.
His 16th minute goal yesterday, while splendidly taken, was ‘created’ by Barnsley central defender Jack Cowgill as was an immediate second opportunity for Harry Anderson that was smothered by home ‘keeper Adam Davies. Only a second chance for Anderson in the second-half was all Posh’s work as Marcus Maddison’s skill on the left wing and perfect cross fell obligingly at the teenager’s feet eight yards from goal, but he shanked his shot wide.
It was probably the frustration of conceding a 95th-minute equaliser that prompted MacAnthony into a post-match twitter moan at an inability to give an opposition goalkeeper anything to do after the break. Mind you if he hadn’t said it publicly, such a shrewd analyst would have been thinking it even if Posh had held on to win and moved up to seventh as a result. Thanks to poor marking at one corner Posh slipped from seventh to 11th in a division packed with ordinary footballers.
Privately MacAnthony might also have been musing at the failure of Erhun Oztumer to start after his man-of-the-match performance in the previous game. If planning for next season really has started Oztumer’s potential role, and suitability for the hurly burly of League One, are points that need addressing. Posh played Anderson up top with Washington yesterday while Maddison again strived in vain for his best form just behind them. It was a combination that only very occasionally threatened to ignite.
Robertson is of course in a catch-22 situation. He has a big job interview coming up and he knew before this game that three wins and proof of attractive football would be big points-scorers with his chairman, but the professional in him also has an eye on the club’s future.
Alan Sheehan’s presence in the team yesterday was surely a sign of muddled priorities. The on-loan Bradford City man played well on the left side of a three-man defence, but, unless Posh change their transfer policy regarding age, he is unlikely to be at the ABAX Stadium next season so little was gained from his selection.
Results may have tailed off - this was a sixth League One game without a win - but Robertson will have positives to place in front of MacAnthony, most notably the improvement several individuals have shown since Darren Ferguson departed. Michael Smith and Michael Bostwick have performed consistently for Robertson and did so again here, while Gaby Zakuani, captain for the day at Barnsley, continues to make a mockery of his non-selection before Christmas.
But even Zakuani was over-shadowed at Oakwell by Santos. The 19 year-old often looked an accident waiting to happen under Ferguson, but he has prospered under Robertson. His contribution yesterday was immense, mixing power in the air and solidity in the tackle with moments of quality in possession.
He deserved to finish on the winning side and looked likely to after Hourihane (twice) and Sam Winnall missed decent scoing opportunities for Barnsley. Hourihane shot wide with the goal at his mercy eight minutes before the break after Posh ‘keeper Ben Alnwick had mis-judged the height of a bounce outside his area and then shot over the bar after Milan Lalkovic’s trickery had set him up eight minutes after the interval.
Another piece of Alnwick mis-judgement, this time of a cross, led to Winnall’s oppportunity. but he headed into the side-netting from an acute angle. Luke Berry eventually rescued a point when he arrived unmarked to meet the 95th minute corner.
By then Ntlhe had been dismissed for two pieces of slightly poor timing, but Posh had coasted through the final stages with 10 men until conceding that fateful late corner. Concentration and organisation then went missing, but more importantly one man’s ambition was dealt a massive blow.
For a team who had spent an afternoon at a boxing training camp recently, getting stopped in their tracks by a late sucker punch must have been mightily disappointing.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith, Gaby Zakuani, Ricardo Santos, Kgosi Ntlhe, Harry Beautyman, Michael Bostwick, Alan Sheehan, Harry Anderson, Marcus Maddison (sub Erhun Oztumer, 74 mins), Conor Washington (sub Jonathan Edwards, 90 + 4 mins). Unused substitutes: Dion-Curtis Henry, Shaun Brisley, Joe Newell, Christian Burgess, David Norris.
Barnsley: Adam Davies, Mason Holgate, Jack Cowgill (sub James Bree, 65 mins), Lewin Nyatanga, George Smith (sub Declan John, 54 mins), Conor Hourihane, Paul Digby (sub Ben Pearson, 55 mins), Luke Berry, Milan Lalkovic, Sam Winnall, Josh Scowen. Unused substitutes: Christian Dibble, Rhys Oates, George Williams, Martin Crainie.
Goals: Posh - Washington (16 mins).
Barnsley - Berry (90 + 5 mins).
Sending off: Posh - Ntlhe (second cautionable foul).
Cautions: Posh - Ntlhe (foul).
Barnsley - Hourihane (foul).
Referee: Sebastian Stockbridge 6.
Attendance: 8.924 (380 Posh).