Was October 3 the day the fun returned to the ABAX Stadium?
Let’s hope so as the one sure way to bring the crowds back to Peterborough United is to offer unmissable entertainment. It’s 13 goals in Graham Westley’s two home matches as Posh manager and if his brief was to deliver goals and thrills he’s made an impressively successful start.
Westley’s starting line-up for the visit of Millwall caused a mild dose of panic though. He fielded five attacking players, four defenders and a sole midfielder, a sign possibly that Posh intended to copy the British political landscape and avoid central areas altogether.
Happily the nay-sayers were proved hopelessly inaccurate. It was a risky line-up as it invited a team unbeaten away from home to take advantage of certain positive Posh players’ aversion to tracking back, but it was one that, alongside some woeful defending on both sides, pretty much guaranteed non-stop excitement.
And the football was fluent, fast-paced and attractive, rather than direct and ugly. Posh won because they were far more ruthless than Millwall when handed regular sights of goals. ‘Clinicality’ is a new buzz word around the ABAX (the rather lame ‘football brave’ disappeared with the last manager) and Posh certainly won the day in that respect.
They were helped in the end by the fact that Millwall’s back four were better at attacking than defending. Defenders Byron Webster, Tony Craig and Mark Beevers scored the goals for ‘The Lions’, all three of them arriving from right-wing crosses, two of them corners as Posh debutant goalkeeper Dion-Curtis Henry (Ben Alnwick hobbled off after half-an-hour with a suspected back injury) and his defenders showed alarming vulnerability to the ball in the air.
It’s something Westley won’t gloss over even though his side’s quality going forward papered over some huge cracks. This was the sort of Posh match last seen when Gary Johnson’s tactical naivety was regularly rescued by the brilliance of George Boyd and friends.
Posh hardly saw the ball in the opening 10 minutes, but were 2-0 up inside 20 minutes as Lee Angol headed in from close range after Jon Taylor’s 20 yard drive had struck a post and then Taylor himself delivered a screamer into the roof of the net from the edge of the area.
Taylor has never played better in a Posh shirt. His starting position on the left of a midfield diamond was a surprise, but he also cut inside late in the game to deliver the eighth and final goal with another fine finish.
That goal capped a quiet extra-ordinary afternoon. Posh led 2-0 at the break, but 10 minutes after the re-start - and after midfielder Chris Forrester had replaced Souleymane Coulibaly in an attempt to offer mighty Michael Bostwick some help in the centre of the park - Millwall were level and looking rampant as first Webster muscled past Ricardo Santos and Craig out-jumped Michael Smith to head home.
But a patient, and eventually inventive, team passing move saw Posh back in front when Marcus Maddison’s chip, a poor defensive header and Conor Washington’s lay-off was expertly finished by Forrester. Maddison’s through ball was then missed badly by Webster enabling Washington to make it 4-2 with an excellent finish and Posh fans could surely relax.
Not quite as another corner led to another back-post headed goal from Beevers as Henry slipped on his way to the ball. Posh survived a couple of defensive scrambles and even after Taylor’s decisive strike there was still time for Millwall to miss a couple of chances before Shaun Williams struck the Posh crossbar deep into injury time.
Fittingly for such a crazy game Posh promptly swept down the other end of the field and some superb inter-play between Washington and Angol led to the latter being denied by a great save from Jordan Archer.
The final whistle blew almost immediately and the Posh fans in a 6,200 crowd swollen by a vast visiting army could breath again.
And when the dust settles Westley will have plenty to reflect on, notabaly the balance between attack and defence. A more clinical side than Millwall could well have won the game despite conceding five goals.
Steve Morison missed a second-minute sitter with his foot and a terrific opportunity with his head just before the break. Substitite Lee Gregory headed straight at Heny following a poorly-defended long throw when the game was still in the balance.
The number of times Millwall midfielders popped up on the edge of the Posh penalty area unopposed will prove more costly in future games. Bostwick was immense in that area, making one outstanding goal-saving tackle at 2-2, but he was fighting a one-man battle for most of the match.
The defending at set-pieces was also scarily bad and it wasn’t just because Posh were unsettled by the departure of captain Alnwick.
But if Maddison continues his outstanding season, Taylor builds on his most complete performance, Washington’s confidence returns after his first League One goal of the season and Forrester and Angol keep progressing, Posh may yet have a chance in the most open League One for many seasons.
Whatever happens, it promises to be an entertaining watch.
Posh: Ben Alnwick (sub Dion-Curtis Henry, 30 mins), Michael Smith, Callum Elder, Gaby Zakuani, Ricardo Almeida Santos, Michael Bostwick, Jon Taylor (sub Jack Collison, 83 mins), Marcus Maddison, Lee Angol, Souleymane Coulibaly (sub Chris Forrester, 46 mins), Conor Washington. Unused substitutes: Dion-Curtis Henry, Alex Davey, Andrew Fox, Harry Anderson, Leo Da Silva Lopes.
Millwall: Jordan Archer, Carlos Edwards, Mark Beevers, Tony Craig, Byron Webster, Shaun Williams, Edward Upson (sub Shane Ferguson, 62 mins), Jimmy Abdou (sub Ben Thompson, 5 mins, sub Lee Gregory, 81 mins), Fred Onyedinma, Aiden O’Brien, Steve Morison. Unused substitutes: David Forde, Joe Martin, Lee Martin, John Marquis.
Goals; Posh - Angol (16 mins), Taylor (19 mins & 82 mins), Forrester (70 mins), Washington (73 mins).
Milwall: Webster (51 mins), Craig (55 mins), Beevers (75 mins).
Cautions: Millwall - Thompson (foul), Williams (foul), O’Brien (foul)
Referee: Carl Boyeson 5