It’s Mrs McCann I feel sorry for.
Peterborough United boss Grant McCann admitted recently he’s not worth talking to at home after a defeat. After a run of them - it’s now eight in the last 12 League One matches and three in a row for the first time this season - it’s probably as well the family doesn’t have a cat.
McCann is a passionate man. He’s also a Posh fan so he’ll be hurting like the rest of us. Probably more so as a string of bad results and poor performances doesn’t often cost a supporter or a reporter his job.
Barring a dramatic change of heart from his chairman, McCann remains some way from that scenario and quite right as well. Posh shouldn’t treat recent club heroes in the same way they would managers with, say, formidable, yet horribly misplaced, arrogance. And nor will they.
It’s known owner Darragh MacAnthony has been impressed with how McCann has dealt with several private off-field problems within his squad this season. Managing these days involves far more than coaching, selection, tactics, looking busy in the technical area and sounding great on the radio.
Maybe Posh fans (and even the city councillor who casually called for the manager’s head after this game) will appreciate this and get behind McCann at a time of great need. If the treatment some supporters dish out to Tom Nichols and Leo Da Silva Lopes is anything to go by though, it may be a forlorn hope. In contrast Oxford’s crowd support was impressively positive throughout.
McCann looked both furious and tormented when he arrived for his post-match debrief. He was angry with his opposite number’s rather smug suggestion that Oxford found today’s (March 11) game ‘too easy’ at times and disappointed at an alleged media attempt (he was mistaken) to steer him into public criticism of his players.
Instead McCann launched into a decent defence of his squad. some of whom didn’t deserve it. That siege mentality he spoke about before the game was well and truly in place during a prickly interview, when McCann made the rather startling claim that his side scored one goal from 18 potential scoring opportunities.
McCann and Oxford boss Michael Appleton did agree on one thing in that both sides lacked a ruthless streak in front of goal. This is a peculiar match to sum up as Oxford, after the opening 20 minutes, often looked a class apart in terms of movement, passing ability and, particularly, penalty area incisiveness and yet visiting goalkeeper Simon Eastwood was one of their star performers.
Eastwood did well to keep out a thunderous ninth-minute strike from Da Silva Lopes, stretched athletically to thwart Chris Forrester’s 25-yard shot, tipped Paul Taylor’s 20-yarder around a post and spread himself Schmeichel-like to keep out Craig Mackail-Smith’s point-blank thump two minutes from time.
Mackail-Smith did eventually beat Eastwood in the 93rd minute, but even though the 100th goal of the striker’s Posh career had been six years in the coming, it proved a damp squib. It arrived too late and it looked like a fluke, as surely that was an intended pass to substitute Junior Morias that nestled in the corner of the net?
By his own admission McCann remains on a learning curve. Today’s lessons included throwing Harry Anderson into the lion’s den when Michael Smith limped out of the game midway through the first-half rather than sending on the experience of Anthony Grant and re-positioning others. Anderson hasn’t played at League One level for 16 months and he isn’t a right-back so predictably found it an arduous hour or so.
Recalling Jack Baldwin at centre-back so Michael Bostwick could play in midfield was a double disaster. Bostwick’s passing was poor, while Baldwin’s decision-making often counters his commitment. Baldwin was the closest Posh player to Phil Edwards when he was given the freedom of the penalty area to head Oxford in front from a 24th-minute corner.
With Anderson toiling, Oxford often made hay down their left flank. Luke McGee made a fine stop to keep out Conor McAleny soon after the opening goal, but, after numerous scrambles, blocks and desperate defensive actions in the Posh penalty area, the Everton loanee gained his revenge from close range 17 minutes from time.
McAleny’s goal made the decision of referee Mark Heywood to show him a yellow card rather than a red after he’d thrown Baldwin to the ground in the first-half even more contentious. Heywood, quite rightly, showed no such mercy to Da Silva Lopes for two ill-timed second-half challenges that led to the first sending-off of the teenager’s career in the final moments.
Posh played with plenty of spirit when two goals behind. Taylor was oustanding for most of the afternoon from a position at the top of the midfield diamond and it was from his corner that Andrew Hughes headed against the crossbar and from another Taylor set-piece that Mackail-Smith saw a close-range shot well-blocked.
Other promising positions arrived and were usually ruined by casual crosses or off-target shots. Nichols blazed over from one half-chance and retreated rather than shoot when Taylor’s slightly overhit pass sent him scuttling into the penalty area.
It all leaves Posh with 50 points as well as 50 goals scored and 50 goals conceded, Bang average in other words and that’s not what McCann, MacAnthony or the supporters had in mind last August.
It may also get worse before it gets better and that’s a most worrying prospect.
Posh: Luke McGee, Michael Smith (sub Harry Anderson, 28 mins), Andrew Hughes, Jack Baldwin (sub Brad Inman, 67 mins), Ryan Tafazolli, Michael Bostwick, Chris Forrester, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Paul Taylor, Craig Mackail-Smith, Tom Nichols (sub Junior Morias, 67 mins).
Unused substitutes: Mark Tyler, Jerome Binnom-Williams, Martin Samuelsen, Anthony Grant.
Oxford: Simon Eastwood, Curtis Nelson, Phil Edwards, Chey Dunkley, John Lundstrom, Ryan Ledson, Rob Hall (sub Liam Sercombe, 80 mins), Marvin Johnson, Chris Maguire, Conor McAleny (sub Joe Rothwell, 78 mins). Kane Hemmings (sub Toni Martinez, 83 mins).
Unused substitutes: Jack Stevens, Joe Skarz, Christian Ribeiro, Josh Ruffles.
Goals: Posh - Mackail-Smith (90 + 3 mins).
Oxford - Edwards (23 mins), MacAleny (73 mins).
Sending-off: Posh - Da Silva Lopes (second cautionable foul).
Cautions: Posh - Taylor (foul), Da Silva Lopes (foul).
Oxford - McAleny (unsportsmanlike conduct), Ledson (foul).
Referee: Mark Heywood 7
Attendance: 5,469 (1,130 Oxford).