Luton Town of League Two must have some decent strikers.
Last season they left fleet-footed striker Jack Marriott languishing on their substitutes’ bench for most of a failed promotion campaign. That’s possibly why it didn’t take too much sweet talking from loose-lipped Barry Fry to persuade ‘The Hatters’ to sell the 22 year-old to Posh in the summer.
And what a deal Posh appear to have struck, even at the reported £450,000 fee. Marriott would have become the first Posh player to claim back-to-back hat-tricks in the club’s Football League history (Terry Bly scored nine goals in eight days in the 1960-61 season, but his four-goal and three-goal games arrived either side of a mere two-goal game), but for the absence of goal-line technology and a compliant Russian linesman.
Marriott is a Craig Mackail-Smith clone, albeit one with more natural finishing ability, and praise in these parts doesn’t come any higher. He is quick, he is aggressive, he doesn’t stop running and if Ricky Miller can get somewhere near Aaron Mclean’s level when he finally leaves the naughty step, Posh could be in for an entertainingly successful season.
Marriott scored both goals here and struck the woodwork twice, all after missing a very presentable third-minute opportunity supplied by the graft and guile of Gwion Edwards.
A left-foot finish across Rotherham goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell in the second minute of the second half and a precise lob 15 minutes from time were enough to earn three points for Posh against a side far superior to the other League One opponents to have been beaten by Grant McCann’s men this season.
Rotherham have power up top and pace out wide. Kieffer Moore, like Marriott a hat-trick hero seven days earlier, headed home a 56th minute equaliser from Lee Frecklington’s excellent cross at a time when the Millers were dominant, but this Posh team didn’t buckle and possibly deserved their win on the back of a high-tempo, thrill-a-minute first half.
Marriott’s goal-that-never-was arrived after a terrific piece of chest control from Anthony Grant’s superb pass and a finish that appeared to bounce over the line after rattling the underside of the crossbar on seven minutes.
Leo Da Silva Lopes also forced a mighty save from O’Donnell after a lovely exchange of passes with Junior Morias, but Rotherham also threatened most notably when Jonathan Bond reacted quickly to keep out strikes from Ryan Williams and Jamie Proctor before Moore smashed a shot against the post to complete a nerve-wracking passage of play.
Proctor also saw a second-half headed goal from close range disallowed for offside as the end-to-end action continued unabated until the final whistle in front of an excited, noisy crowd in excess of 6,000.
It all left Posh boss McCann with a Cheshire Cat-like grin on his face after the game. He spoke softly and calmy about the challenges ahead while Rotherham manager Paul Warne was ‘incadescant with rage’ at the defensive errors that enabled Marriott to become a hero for the second successive Saturday.
Warne felt O’Donnell should have saved the first goal and was in agreement with the rest of the crowd about Semi Ajayi’s dismal failure to deal with a hoofed clearance from Posh skipper Jack Baldwin which allowed Marriott to pounce and win the game.
“We created enough chances to win the game three times over,” Warne said, remembering Proctor’s failure to convert a Williams cross on the half hour when unmarked six yards from goal, but conveniently forgetting the number of opportunities Posh also created. “You just can’t legislate for individual errors. I am incandescent with rage. When we got back to 1-1, I thought we would go on to win a match that panned out exactly how I thought it would.”
It was a game played at a ferocious pace, but Posh stood firmer defensively than Rotherham. Baldwin was immense in the second period when Steven Taylor was finally slowed down by a dig in the ribs suffered early in the game.
Of the former Posh players in the visiting team, Frecklington and Joe Newell both enjoyed bright moments with the latter forcing the late substitution of Da Silva Lopes after finding too many gaps on the left-hand side of midfield. Jon Taylor and David Ball were second-half substitutes who contributed very little.
It is of course foolish to let optimism run riot after the first three-game winning start since a 2013-14 Britt Assombalonga-inspired campaign which eventually hit the buffers, but for now enjoy the fact that midfield irritant Grant plays for rather than against Posh and enjoy the promise, pace and pure ability offered by 17 year-old forward Idris Kanu.
Oh and enjoy the skills of Marcus Maddison - a peripheral presence for the most part here apart from a caution for simulation - while you can. There’s only one more serious game before the transfer window shuts on August 31.
Posh: Jonathan Bond, Steven Taylor, Jack Baldwin, Ryan Tafazolli, Anthony Grant, Michael Doughty, Leo Da Silva Lopes (sub Andrew Hughes, 83 mins), Gwion Edwards, Marcus Maddison (sub Chris Forrester, 83 mins), Jack Marriott, Junior Morias (sub Idris Kanu, 71 mins). Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Andrea Borg, Danny Lloyd, Liam Shephard.
Rotherham: Richard O’Donnell, Joshua Emmanuel (sub Anthony Forde, 82 mins), Semi Ajayi, Michael Ihiekwe, Joe Mattock, Ryan Williams (sub Jon Taylor, 76 mins), Darren Potter, Lee Frecklington, Joe Newell, Kieffer Moore, Jamie Proctor (sub David Ball, 71 mins). Unused substitutes: Laurence Bilboe, Will Vaulks, Ben Purrington, Jonson Clarke-Harris.
Goals: Posh - Marriott (47 mins & 76 mins).
Rotherham - Moore (56 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Maddison (simulation).
Rotherham - Newell (dissent), Mattock (foul), Ihiekwe (foul), Frecklington (deliberate handball).
Referee: Ross Joyce 7
Attendance: 6,344 (1,068 Rotherham).