For a few minutes it looked like there would be a re-enactment of the St Valentine’s Day massacre at the ABAX Stadium today, but then we remembered Peterborough United are not renowned for the straightness of their shooting.
A close-range header and a one-inch tap-in did have Posh 2-0 up front against a lightweight Rochdale side inside seven minutes, but, despite cruising onto a comfortable 2-1 win, they fired blanks for the rest of the contest. No matter, any sort of home win right now is gauranteed a warm welcome, with or without roses and chocolates.
Rochdale full-back Joe Rafferty’s thunderbolt midway through the first-half meant Posh could never relax, but the visitors, who named 10 21 year-olds or under in their squad, barely created another opening meaning the home side could jump forward three places and move to within two points of the play-offs in this most volatile of divisions.
Whether or not they can sustain that position over the next week is debatable. Games away at Bristol City and MK Dons will be a little bit tougher than seeing off a Rochdale side who were most unsuited to a trial of strength in the London Road mud.
But at least confidence has been somewhat restored and the arrival and return of David Norris and Jon Taylor respectively are timely boosts as long as both play up to their reputations.
Neither was on the pitch when Posh were at their most impressive today. A right-wing cross from Michael Smith enabled Harry Beautyman to power home a header from six yards in the fourth minute and he should have added a second from the same source within 90 seconds.
Rochdale ‘keeper Josh Lillis somehow managed to turn the second opportunity away for a corner, but respite was brief as the ‘keeper promptly made a hash of Joe Newell’s corner enabling Christian Burgess to push the ball over the line from close range.
Posh dominated those opening exchanges completely with Smith sending over a succession of decent crosses. Luke James volleyed one superbly just the wrong side of a post to continue his barren run in front of goal.
Indeed it looks like it’s going to be tight as to which comes first, a goal for James or the end of the Bourges Boulecard roadworks, but Posh fans shouldn’t lose faith in their expensive striker. James was excellent again here. His workrate, speed off the mark and unselfish running was reminiscent of Craig Mackail-Smith, another slow-burner in terms of consistent finishing who turned into one of the club’s greatest players.
Mackail-Smith also had the advantage of playing in a better Posh team. His side would have buried Dale under an avalanche of goals after such a bright start, but instead the visitors struck next on 24 minutes when Rafferty claimed his first professional goal with a 25-yard screamer into the top corner.
Posh have such fragile confidence at home seasoned observers probably feared the worst, but instead Darren Ferguson’s pretty much kept control of the first-half. Erhun Oztumer, recalled to replace Marcus Maddison, dragged a shot wide, while Aaron Mclean saw a goalbound volley bravely blocked.
It was more even after the break, but Rochdale, the top scorers away from home in League One, threatened just twice. Recalled Posh ‘keeper Ben Alnwick recovered well after appearing to be beaten by Peter Vicenti’s lob from just inside the penalty area and Jack O’Connell kneed a half-chance from a set-piece over the bar from a tight angle.
But Dale didn’t exert any consistent pressure which meant that Posh could protect Alnwick well despite the occasional aerial misjudgement from Burgess and Shaun Brisley.
Taylor didn’t contribute anything dazzling in his 30 minutes or so on the pitch, but his pace looks intact. He did test Lillis with one shot from a tricky angle and it could be he will soon be partnering James up front.
Norris was largely anonymous in his 20 minutes of action, but he took up sensible midfield positions and offered calmness to a side that can become too frenetic for its own good. Posh were helped in the final stages by an injury to powerful Dale striker Calvin Andrew - one that arrived after the visitors had made all three substitutions.
The presence of Norris might also release Beautyman into more advanced positions which can only be a good thing. The former Welling midfielder has the enthusiasm of a 10 year-old. He is Mr Perpetual Motion, a player who could keep on running for longer than Barry Fry can keep on talking.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Bostwick, Shaun Brisley, Christian Burgess, Michael Smith, Jack Payne, Harry Beautyman, Joe Newell (sub Kgosi Ntlhe, 46 mins), Erhun Oztumer (sub David Norris, 69 mins), Aaron Mclean (sub Jon Taylor, 65 mins), Luke James. Unused substitutes: Conor Washington, Scott Loach, Jermaine Anderson, Gaby Zakuani.
Rochdale: Josh Lillis, Joe Rafferty, Ashley Eastham (sub Michael Rose, 46 mins), Oliver Lancashire, Stephen Dawson, Joe Bunney, Jamie Allen (sub Calvin Andrew, 65 mins), Jack O’Connell, Reuben Noble-Lazarus (sub Callum Camps, 46 mins), Peter Vicenti, Ian Henderson. Unused substitutes: Jonathan Diba-Musangu, Joel Logan, Andrew Cannon, Nyal Bell.
Goals: Posh - Beautyman (4 mins), Burgess (7 mins).
Dale - Rafferty (24 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Brisley (foul), Burgess (foul), Smith (delaying the re-start).
Dale - Bunney (foul), Rafferty (foul).
Referee: Keith Hill 6
Attendance: 5,163 (220 Dale).