Tom Nichols was a very personable young man when with Peterborough United.
He was a popular interviewee for a start, a ready supplier of headline quotes, something he’s taken with him to Bristol Rovers it seems, although pre-match words have probably never quite been rammed down someone’s throats quite so forcibly as happened to poor Tom yesterday (August 12).
Nichols mused on his apparent unpopularity among Posh fans in his new local newspaper delivering the quality line ‘the Peterborough fans booed me when I played for them so I’m sure they’ll boo me in this game’ before a pay-off comment of ‘hopefully we’ll be able to stick it to them (the fans) today’.
It wasn’t quite as potent as England cricket captain Tony Grieg’s 1976 ‘we’ll make them grovel’ jibe at a West Indian side including Viv Richards and Michael Holding, but a 4-1 Posh win and a hat-trick from Nichols’ successor Jack Marriott probably led to a quiet night in for a man who lead the scoring charts at the ABAX Stadium last season, although that was a less-competitive contest than a Mastermind heat between Love Island entrants.
Not so this season. The first hat-trick of Marriott’s Football League career should be a portent to a fine individual season and yet he might need a six-game headstart to outscore Ricky Miller, a non-league hotshot champing at the bit to help his local team enjoy success.
Marriott opened the scoring from close range following a fine left-wing surge and cross from Gwion Edwards in the early stages at the Memorial Stadium, accepted a fine pass from strike partner Junior Morias before supplying a fine finish to make it 2-0 10 minutes into the second-half and completed his treble in the final moments when tapping home a precise cross from substitute Andrew Hughes.
Jack was deadly in the box, but his speed, aggression and workrate make him a sound team player also. Nichols was far from useless in this game (he set up a sitter which fellow Rovers forward Ellis Harrison missed at 1-0 down and forced a brilliant save from Jonathan Bond at 2-0), but getting in where it hurts was never part of his Posh gameplan and a rock-like back three of Steven Taylor, Jack Baldwin and Ryan Tafazolli found home substitute Rory Gaffney the biggest handful, a point he emphasised when nodding home five minutes from time to deny a clean sheet some impressive positional play and some terrific blocking looked like securing.
Taylor even found the time to saunter up field and claim his first goal in England since New Year’s Day, 2015 after Baldwin had flicked on Marcus Maddison’s corner. That strike 12 minutes from time put the brake on some Rovers’ momentum. Bond had saved well from a long-range Liam Sercombe strike and Ryan Sweeney had looped a set-piece header onto the crossbar in the preceding minutes.
Posh didn’t dominate possession or territory at any time (Billy Bodin thumped Bond’s crossbar from 20 yards on the stroke of half-time), but their new 3-4-1-2 playing formation delivered security at the back and a goal threat on the break as the pace and ability of Marriott, Edwards and Maddison regularly stretched a cumbersome central-defensive pairing. Marriott, after Maddison had played him in, also missed a one-on-one opportunity in the first-half and Posh’s potency even went up in the final quarter when exciting 17 year-old speedster Idris Kanu replaced Morias.
Posh boss Grant McCann, although clearly thrilled, sensibly didn’t overplay his hand in the post-match press conference. He would have been concerned how the absence of senior players Taylor and Anthony Grant co-incided with a poor performance against League Two opposition in the team’s previous outing and made a point of praising both men yesterday.
“It’s amazing what a bit of experience on the field can give you,” McCann stated in a nod to the streetwise antics of two men who know when to slow a game down.
Grant, who experienced the thrill of fatherhood again the day before the game, is a tough midfield hardman, but one capable of detecting the merest of contacts from an opponent and gaining maximum advantage from it. Taylor’s positional sense and general knowhow successfully negates the fact he isn’t exactly Usain Bolt.
But this was ultimately Marriott’s match. A man signed for £450,000 (according to those omnipresent Sky sources) from Luton reserves in the summer left the ground clutching the matchball, while his predecessor had only wounded pride and a lesson in humility to accompany him on the journey home.
Posh: Jonathan Bond, Steven Taylor, Jack Baldwin, Ryan Tafazolli, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Gwion Edwards (sub Andrew Hughes. 90 mins), Anthony Grant, Michael Doughty, Marcus Maddison (sub Chris Forrester, 80 mins), Junior Morias (sub Idris Kanu, 74 mins), Jack Marriott. Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Alex Penney, Danny Lloyd, Andrea Borg.
Bristol Rovers: Adam Smith, Daniel Leadbitter, Tom Lockyer, Ryan Sweeney, Lee Brown, Chris Lines (sub Byron Moore, 62 mins), Stuart Sinclair (sub Ollie Clarke, 66 mins), Liam Sercombe, Billy Bodin, Tom Nichols, Ellis Harrison (sub Rory Gaffney, 62 mins). Unused substitutes: Sam Slocombe, Dom Telford, Marc Bola, Joe Partington.
Goals: Posh - Marriott (7 mins, 56 mins & 90 + 5 mins), Taylor (78 mins).
Rovers -Gaffney (85 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Grant (foul), Taylor (foul).
Rovers - Secombe (foul).
Referee: Nick Kinseley 7
Attendance: 9,758 (293 Posh).