Junior Morias did a fine job of debunking the myth that footballers don’t care.
The two-goal star of Peterborough United’s redemptive League One win at Port Vale admitted he was in tears after claiming the first Football League goals of his fledgling career in a 3-0 win.
The stocky striker from St Albans was only on the pitch for the final 10 minutes, but, helped by a pitchside interview which helped shatter another preconception about players lacking humility and common sense, he dominated much of the post-match chatter. Not a bad effort in a game which featured Marcus Maddison following a penalty miss with a quite spectacular goal 60 seconds later, an impressive debut from returning Vale hero Anthony Grant, the start of Posh legend Craig Mackail-Smith’s third spell at London Road and a mighty defensive effort from man-of-the-match Ryan Tafazolli and co.
Morias is a finisher. It’s far from likely he will become the next Dwight Gayle, but he could well have a key role to play in the push for the play-offs as manager Grant McCann continues his season-long search for a strike partnership that works.
What McCann thought about Morias and a terrific response to the club’s dry January we don’t yet know as a dash for an airport stopped him discussing two similar injury-time finishes from his late substitute. His first was drilled home after Tom Nichols had charged down an attempted clearance, while his second was obligingly palmed into the net by home goalkeeper Leo Fasan after Maddison had teed him up.
McCann’s absence enabled assistant boss Lee Glover to promote his own wit and good sense. It’s unusual to see the second-in-command before the press on a happy occasion, but he enjoyed the moment, as you’d expect from a former Vale striker.
Everyone in blue had been either ‘outstanding’ or ’excellent.’ He praised his centre-backs, his midfielders, Grant, Nichols, Mackail-Smith, Maddison and, obviously, Morias, who he also chided gently for almost taking his shirt off in celebration after his second goal, which arrived four minutes after receiving a caution for doing just that after his first goal. ‘That would have been rather silly,” Glover stated.
Glover’s coaching speciality is forward play and he admitted ‘we do practice and plan our team-play going forward, even though it sometimes looks we don’t’ and concluded this was a big win for a team missing two big players in captain Chris Forrester and future Royal Rumble contestant Michael Bostwick.
Neither were missed here partly because Grant possesses a combination of their best attributes. He breaks up play as well as Bostwick and he keeps possession as well as Forrester. Mackail-Smith’s industry up front was encouraging, but one suspects Grant will be the more influential deadline day signing.
Of course tougher tests await - there’s the slightly harder task of hosting leaders Sheffield United next Saturday (February 11) for a start - but Vale’s home record demands this result is treated with respect.
Posh outplayed Vale in the opening half-an-hour before battening down the hatches in a 20-minute spell during the second-half when the ball rarely reached the home side’s half of the pitch. Vale created absolutely nothing though, bar a header deep into first-half injury time from a corner that Posh ‘keeper Luke McGee pushed over the bar, and they’d blown themselves out well before Morias started strutting his stuff.
A three-goal margin of victory flattered Posh and also took attention away from the efforts of Tafazolli and the rest of his back four. They met every cross into the box - and there were a lot of them - with purpose and power and if the ball then fell to a home player, they were happy to throw themselves in front of shots at goal.
Mackail-Smith’s ability, and willingness, to run beyond defenders helped Posh stretch the home back four. Nichols and Maddison were employed either side of him, and slightly behind him, and it was a formation that threatened much in the early stages.
And a 60-second spell during that dominant period would have tested the resolve of the Maddison knockers. Nichols’ fine pass enabled Maddison to win a 19th-minute penalty from a poor challenge by Callum Guy, but a man without a goal since early October was aghast when Fasan flung himself to his right to stop the spot-kick.
But just as the keyboard warriors warmed up their bitter fingers, Maddison accepted a short pass in his own half, sprinted towards the Vale goal, cut inside onto his left foot and curled a beauty into the corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area.
Nichols should have added to that goal five minutes before the break after fine work from Gwion Edwards and Jerome Binnom-Williams, while Mackail-Smith’s best chance to bag his 100th Posh goal arrived 15 minutes from time after a neat one-two with Nichols, but he spooned his left-foot shot over the crossbar.
Mackail-Smith presumably has a sense of theatre. There will be no better way to become just the fifth player of the club’s Football League era to reach a century of goals in front of a packed house against the best side in the division next weekend.
Posh: Luke McGee, Michael Smith, Jerome Binnom-Williams, Dominic Ball, Ryan Tafazolli, Anthony Grant, Leo Da Silva Lopes (sub Brad Inman, 61 mins), Gwion Edwards (sub Martin Samuelsen, 86 mins), Marcus Maddison, Craig Mackail-Smith (sub Junior Morias, 82 mins), Tom Nichols. Unused substitutes: Paul Taylor, Lee Angol, Mark Tyler, Andrew Hughes.
Port Vale: Leonardo Fasan, Ben Purkiss, Remie Street, Scott Tanser, Nathan Smith, Callum Guy (sub Danny Pugh, 61 mins), Anthony De Freitas (sub Anton Forrester, 84 mins), Sam Foley, Tyler Walker, Olamide Shadipo (sub Chris Eagles, 71 mins), JJ Hooper. Unused substitutes: Ryan Boot, Rigino Cecilia, Axel Prohouly, Kjell Knops.
Goals: Posh - Maddison (20 mins), Morias (90 + 1 min, 90 + 5 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Da Silva Lopes (foul), Edwards (foul), Nichols (simulation), Morias (over-celebrating his first Football League goal).
Vale - Smith (foul), Pugh (foul).
Referee: Charles Breakspear 7.
Attendance: 4,259 (270 Posh).