Euphoric victory following dazzling attacking play will not be allowed to paper over the defensive cracks
When the euphoria from a penalty shootout victory in a breathtaking FA Cup tie dies down, it will become clear Peterborough United have improvement to make to maintain their push for success in 2019.
Unless of course Ivan Toney and Marcus Maddison continue their personal form from last night’s 4-4 draw with Bradford City at Valley Parade. Toney delivered his best Didier Drogba impression (with a touch of David Beckham for his first goal of a hat-trick) while Maddison mixed the skills of John Barnes with the running power of Mo Farah to drag Posh through to a third round tie at Middlesbrough. Not many League One defences would have lived with them last night.
A trip to the Riverside is not much of a reward on a doubtless freezing January day, and one that comes either side of equally delightful trips to Accrington and Luton, but a knockout at the hands of League One’s bottom club could have done untold damage to players’ confidence levels as well as the stress levels of club pessimists, some of who were soon carping after a madcap game of 57 shots, eight goals (a couple of which were a joy to behold), defensive disorganisation that would have shamed the Keystone Kops, woodwork rattling, goalline clearances, dodgy keeping, great saves and non-stop end-to-end excitement. Those who wanted entertainment now demand defensive solidity.
Ah well. The last time Posh won promotion from League One they conceded 75 goals in 46 games, more than three of the bottom four that season.
To be fair Posh boss Steve Evans’ praise for his players’ character and attacking magic was accompanied by concerns about the defensive frailty required to concede four goals to a team with seven goals in their 10 previous home outings. Posh led this FA Cup tie by two goals on three separate occasions over two games and yet required two high-class individual displays and a penalty shootout before finally seeing off the battling Bantams.
“Let’s be honest and admit we should have had our feet up this week preparing for a tough League One game at Shrewsbury,” Evans stated. “We had the game won at the ABAX and we had it won again tonight, but the quality of our attacking play wasn’t matched by our defensive work. I will praise the players’ character though for coming back again after turning a 3-1 lead into a 4-3 deficit.
“It’s also only right that we celebrate the victory, applaud the attacking play and start work straight away in sorting out the defensive issues.”
Former manager Barry Fry was a big fan of the ‘organised chaos’ on show last night, but he employed it on purpose reasoning far inferior Posh players than those on show last night had a better chance of winning if all-out attack managed to cover up a lack of defensive ability. But there are far better plans for a team with eyes on the big prize of promotion to the Championship than letting gifted opponents run loose and free in midfield areas and, most worryingly, in the penalty area. It’s fair to say Posh were scary at both ends of a sparsely-populated Valley Parade last night.
Ultimately Toney’s treble (a 50-yard free kick and two headers from delightful crosses by the outstanding Maddison) a tap-in for Maddison and three penalty saves in a shootout from back-up ‘keeper Conor O’Malley saw Posh to victory. The shootout was welcome relief for O’Malley who had made a couple of costly slips as City recovered from 2-0 down and 3-1 down to take the lead for the first time in two ties in the 73rd minute. Toney levelled six minutes from time to preserve the Posh record of not losing a single game after taking the lead this season.
City came closest to winning that third round spot in the final 10 minutes as Anthony O’Connor volleyed against the crossbar and O’Malley was smartly off his line to thwart two-goal George Miller, but Posh were rampant in extra time with substitutes George Cooper and Matt Godden as well as full-back Joe Ward all missing great chances following more sublime play from Maddison.
O’Malley’s three saves in the shootout ensured Maddison and Toney at least deservedly finished on the winning side. Toney was splendidly humble after the game dedicating his goals to his grandparents, while assist king Maddison must be salivating at the prospect of working with such a powerful, big and talented centre-forward.
Mind you it’s January transfer window time soon and Maddison has a well-publicised release clause within his lucrative contract....
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Joe Ward, Colin Daniel, Ryan Tafazolli, Rhys Bennett, Alex Woodyard, Mark O’Hara (sub Jamie Walker, 79 mins), Marcus Maddison, Siriki Dembele (sub George Cooper, 64 mins), Ivan Toney, Jason Cummings (sub Matt Godden, 64 mins).
Unused substitutes: Aaron Chapman, Jason Naismith, Louis Reed, Tyler Denton.
Bradford City: Ben Wilson, Adam Chicksen, Kelvin Mellor, Anthony O’Connor, Paul Caddis, Nat Knight-Percival, Lewis O’Brien, Hope Akpan (sub Karl Henry, 70 mins), George Miller (sub Luca Colville, 90 + 2 mins), David Ball (sub, Eoin Doyle, 86 mins), Jack Payne.
Unused substitutes: Richard O’Donnell, Ryan McGowan, Kai Bruenker, Connor Wood.
Goals: Posh - Toney (18 mins, 20 mins & 84 mins), Maddison (45 + 3 mins).
City - Miller (23 mins & 73 mins), Ball (53 mins), Caddis (58 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Toney (foul), Ward (foul), Maddison (dissent), Cooper (foul).
City - O’Connor (unsportsmanlike conduct), Ball (foul).
Referee: Ross Joyce 8
Attendance: 3,486 (approx 150 Posh).