Perhaps it wasn’t an idle summer brag about scoring 20 goals this season from Peterborough United striker Tom Nichols.
The 22 year-old certainly caused a few eyebrows to rise when declaring he could follow in the footsteps of Assombalonga, Mclean and Mckail-Smith in reaching a landmark figure before next May. After all, he’d scored on his Posh debut last season before falling victim to Graham Westley’s tombola ball selection policy and then to injury. Heck, he was behind a bloke who hadn’t played professional for over a year in the pecking order a few days ago.
But in a 30-minute cameo against an energetic, and ultimately rather unfortuante AFC Wimbledon side, last night (August 9) Nichols showed predatory instincts not visible in any other striker currently in Grant McCann’s squad. It’s doubtful any other Posh player would have headed Leo Da Silva’s right-wing cross precisely into the corner of the net midway through the second half or predicted where Paul Taylor’s header from Marcus Maddison’s 93rd minute corner would land before casually flicking the ball past helpless goalkeeper Ryan Clarke.
Nichols’ second goal spared Posh the inconvenience of extra-time, secured his first sponsors’ man-of-the-match award and booked his side a place in tonight’s English Football League Cup second round draw thanks to a 3-2 win. It was a game that had pretty much everything you’d want from a cup tie, apart from a decent atmosphere.
It was a better result than performance as Posh manager Grant McCann acknowledged afterwards. The Real Dons missed two open goals in this game, the first two minutes after Posh double-promotion winning star Chris Whelpdale had headed them in front from a 35th-minute corner. Dean Parrett’s excellent set-piece delivery created that goal and it should have created another straight away, but defender Darius Charles headed wide of a gaping target.
That was a huge let-off for Posh who barely got out of their own half in the opening quarter as their visitors bossed possession by winning every meaningful challenge. There had been a suggestion pre-match that this Wimbledon side paid homage to their ‘Crazy Gang’ of the past by knocking long balls forward at every opportunity to a big, bruising centre-forward. This was only partly true and anyway Tyrone Barnett is a pussycat compared to John Fashanu.
Posh, despite the best efforts of captain Chris Forrester and attacking hope Maddison, couldn’t find their passing game. Only when left-back Andrew Hughes fired wide following Gwion Edwards’ pass and when Maddison burst past a toiling defender to shoot into the side-netting did Posh threaten Clarke’s goal.
The arrival of Nichols and Jerome Binnom-Williams as substitutes early in the second-half galvanised Posh though and within four minutes of Nichols’ equaliser, Taylor had slotted Posh in front after Michael Bostwick and Jack Baldwin had combined to try and make a hash of Maddison’s free-kick into the penalty area.
Immediately Andy Barcham somehow managed to strike the crossbar from three yards after Posh ‘keeper Ben Alnwick had fumbled Lyle Taylor’s cross, but the latter, the Don’s star striker kept on the bench until Posh struck the front, cooly equalised after Alnwick and substitute Callum Chettle had got themselves into a tangle on the edge of their own area with 12 minutes remaining.
It was very much end-to-end after that with Michael Bostwick’s block keeping out another Taylor strike before Edwards’ lung-busting 65-yard run forced the corner from which Posh found their winner.
The result continued McCann’s impressive statistical run as a manager. Unbeaten, and with plenty of goals, in six matches in charge spread over close to 12 months suggests McCann might well have a Midas touch.
Cerainly he’s made two game-changing substitutions in two matches this season with players he has sent on scoring winning goals to apply gloss to ordinary displays (winning when not playing particularly well is a good skill to have).
McCann has also managed to send out a team to win on a Tuesday night, something his predecessors managed on just two of 12 occasions last season.
But it should be noted that Posh also won a Tuesday in the first round of this competition 12 months ago. The forthcoming visits of losing play-off finalists Bradford (August 13) and Millwall (August 16) will tell us far more about McCann’s current squad.
Before then McCann will doubtless reflect on just three shots on target last night, a goalkeeper who looks a bag of nerves, a midfield diamond that exposes Posh defensively when the ball isn’t retained and the need for both full-backs to be comfortable dashing forward in possession.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Hayden White, Andrew Hughes (sub Jerome Binnom-Williams, 56 mins), Michael Bostwick, Jack Baldwin, Chris Forrester (sub Callum Chettle, 72 mins), Leo Da Silva Lopes, Gwion Edwards, Marcus Maddison, Shaquile Coulthirst (sub Tom Nichols, 56 mins), Paul Taylor. Unused substitutes: Mark Tyler, Michael Smith, Adil Nabi, Jermaine Anderson.
Wimbledon: Ryan Clarke, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Jake Reeves, Andy Barcham, Chris Whelpdale (sub Tom Beere, 46 mins), Dominic Poleon (sub Lyle Taylor, 68 mins), Tyrone Barnett (sub Tom Elliott, 67 mins), Dean Parrett, Sean Kelly, Darius Charles. Unused substitutes: James Shea, Dannie Bulman, Will Nightingale, David Fitzpatrick.
Goals: Posh - Nichols (64 mins & 90+3 mins), Taylor (67 mins).
Wimbledon - Whelpdale (35 mins), Taylor (78 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Forrester (foul), Da Silva Lopes (foul).
Wimbledon - Reeves (foul), Fuller (dissent).
Referee: Ollie Yates 7.
Attendance: 2,886 (270 Wimbledon).