New Peterborough United manager Dave Robertson is working so many miracles he should immediately be put in charge of the Bourges Boulevard roadworks.
After all in three short weeks he’s succeeded in getting Posh on the move in the right direction again. Robertson has the defence keeping clean sheets (three in four games now), the midfielders creating opportunities and now the strikers have started scoring.
Luke James’ first League One goal in his six months at the club will understandably steal most of the headlines, but for the first time this season both starting strikers scored in the same match as Conor Washington completed a 2-0 win at play-off rivals Doncaster with a quite remarkable breakaway goal in the dying stages of a tense, yet enthralling, contest.
The turnaround since that pitiful spectacle at MK Dons in Darren Ferguson’s last game in charge on February 28 is now just a distant memory. There was a huge Posh away following again today (March 14), but this time they saw a team full of passion, commitment, spirit and organisation grind out a fourth win in succession.
That’s the best start by a Posh manager for 51 years and if Robertson can set a club record by making it five on the bounce with a win at bang in-form automatic promotion contenders Preston on Tuesday (March 17), he really should get the keys to the city.
A long, midweek trip might prove to be a game too far for this Posh team, but they will at least travel with great confidence after this fine result, achieved with an almost perfect away performance.
Posh got themselves in front through James in 18 minutes, survived one or two nervy moments before the break, but then defended with such great resilience, goalkeeper Ben Alnwick was not called into serious action, in the second-half at least, until making a terrific save with his foot two minutes from time. And just to prove that all parts of the Posh game are in top working order, Robertson’s men promptly broke away to seal the points with Washington’s goal, superbly assisted by substitute Kyle Vassell.
“People might start making the mistake of thinking I know what I’m doing after I sent Kyle on to stretch their back four,” Robertson, who hasn’t had a payrise or a new contract despite being told he was no longer a caretaker-manager earlier this week, stated with a broad grin on his face. “Maybe I should ask for a 1o year contract now!”
Robertson is confident in his own ability without being smug or arrogant. He has his own mind (he sent on teenager Harry Anderson rather than a couple of far more experienced midfielders for the final 20 minutes here) and is clearly not afraid to make strong decisions. Ricardo Santos, Gaby Zakuani and Michael Bostwick the midfielder were surplus to requirements under Ferguson and yet they have been transformed into key men by his replacement.
Santos didn’t play anything resembling a pass in the whole game today, but he is proving to be an effective, no-nonsense defender who wins tackles and headers like a 6ft 7in tower block should. In Zakuani he has the perfect partner for a young player wanting to learn how to clear his lines.
Posh are playing the ball long out of defence, but asking wingers to deliver trickery and crosses and enabling strikers to make runs that might lead to goals. Chris Turner inspired back to back promotions playing in a similar way.
Turner also signed Ken Charlery who endured a long run without a goal in his early Posh career. He went on to become ‘King Ken’ and maybe, just maybe, Posh might one day have a coronation for ‘King James’.
Most people loved James (everyone loves a trier) even when he wasn’t scoring. It had been 193 days, and 26 appearances of varying length, since his last Posh goal so when he stooped to nod home Jon Taylor’s right wing cross there was a predictable outpouring of joy, more from the fans and his mates in the team and on the coaching staff, than the player himself.
Until the identity of the scorer of the League One play-off final winning goal at Wembley is known, there will be no more popular scorer than James this season.
Posh had opened the game brightly with Joe Newell starting a 45-minute torture of right-back Reece Wabara with a dazzling left wing run that was ruined by the decision to shoot rather than pass once he arrived inside the penaty area.
Bostwick and Newell both forced Bywater into fingertip saves from 25 yards in the first-half, but Doncaster reached the interval aggrieved they were not at least level.
Alnwick saved well to thwart Nathan Tyson when the home striker surged clear and there were strong, and justifiable, claims for a home penalty when Zakuani appeared to shove Jonson Clarke-Harris over. ‘A certain spot-kick’, according to Doncaster manager Paul Dickov who nevertheless admitted Posh deserved to win.
Posh full-back Michael Smith did well to divert a goal-bound cross over his own crossbar and Bostwick got a big enough block on a Tyson shot to enable Alnwick to make a superb one-handed reflex save and the visitors were probably the more relieved to hear the half-time whistle from eccentric referee Nigel Miller, a man who demonstrated perfectly why officials shouldn’t be allowed to carry on whistling beyond the age of 50.
Posh probably expected a siege after the break, but it never arrived even though Doncaster enjoyed plenty of possession. They worked the ball wide and either crossed it out of play or onto the head of Santos or Zakuani. Any attempts to power through the middle were met with impressive resistance from Jack Payne and Bostwick.
Bostwick, whose brutal tackle set Taylor on his way to create the opening goal, made one superb block to halt Dean Furman’s smack at goal, but otherwise Alnwick had little opportunity to repeat his athletic heroics of the first 45 minutes.
Until that is in the 88th minute when he managed to kick away a close-range deflected shot from Curtis Main. Kgosi Ntlhe completed the clearance, Vassell picked up the loose ball, tricked his way past two defenders before setting up Washington for a cool finish.
That was the excuse for the massed Posh rank behind that goal (they had been brilliantly supportive for the rest of the game anyway) to go wild. Robertson reckoned the fans had performed better than the team. That might not be true, but there is no doubt that the bond between fans and team is stronger than it has been for some time.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith, Kgosi Ntlhe (sub Shaun Brisley, 90 mins), Gaby Zakuani, Ricardo Santos, Jack Payne, Michael Bostwick, Joe Newell (sub Harry Anderson, 76 mins), Jon Taylor, Conor Washington, Luke James (sub Kyle Vassell, 86 mins). Unused substitutes: Dion-Curtis Henry, Erhun Oztumer, David Norris, Harry Beautyman.
Doncaster: Stephen Bywater, Enda Stevens, Reece Wabara, Andy Butler, Luke McCullough, Richie Wellens, Dean Furman (sub Abdul Razak, 83 mins), Harry Forrester (sub Kyle Bennett, 66 mins), Jonson Clarke-Harris, Nathan Tyson (sub Theo Robinson, 74 mins), Curtis Main. Unused substitutes: Marko Marosi, Jamie McCombe, Cedric Evina, Harry Middleton.
Goals: Posh - James (18 mins), Washington (89 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Payne (foul), Ntlhe (simulation), Washington (unsportsmanlike conduct), Bostwick (foul).
Doncaster - Stevens (foul).
Referee: Nigel Miller 5
Attendance: 11,520 (2,329 Posh).