MATCH COMMENT: Oxford United 2, Peterborough United 1: Evans pic '˜n' mix leads to a damaging result on the road
This result is damaging because of the forthcoming fixtures for play-off chasing Peterborough United.
On the face of it six points in three games in eight days is far from a bad return, but facing a managerless side sliding downhill faster than Lizzy Yarnold is surely more favourable than travelling to Rotherham, Plymouth, Blackburn, Shrewsbury and Portsmouth which are the remaining road trips for Steve Evans’ side. That’s away games at the current top two, three of the top four, four of the top six and five of the top eight. A daunting prospect, especially if yesterday’s (March 17) performance is repeated. Oxford were well worth their first home win since January 6 and their fifth straight League win over Posh. Twice this season Oxford have played Posh when completely out of form and twice they’ve triumphed.
There was a rapid, and very welcome, post-match mea culpa from Evans (‘I picked the wrong team, the wrong shape, the wrong system’) after the game before he offered excuses in the shape of referee Rob Lewis (‘he could have played 20 minutes added time there was so much time wasting going on’) and the admittedly bonkers playing conditions (‘farcical’) in a three-sided stadium which offers no protection when the wind is blowing hard and unseasonal March snow is falling.
But the manager dragged attention to himself long before he was seen stomping angrily on the pitch after the game. His initial team selection didn’t so much raise eyebrows as cause them to fly off one’s face. Jermaine Anderson - not seen at the start of a game in 2018 - surely wasn’t selected on the basis of one glorious late pass when a substitute in the new manager’s first game? And in an advanced midfield position in support of Jack Marriott, a role I can’t remember him performing in his professional career, even when he was fit and flying? Evans is too smart, his CV too strong, to believe he backed a hunch. The training evidence must have been powerful. Anderson’s, admittedly sensible, withdrawal after just 38 minutes won’t have helped confidence that was presumably already fragile.
And Chris Forrester, the best passer in the side who was forced to ply his trade on the Bury quicksand a few days earlier, was left on the bench for a game played on a far superior surface, one wide enough to demand accurate balls to the Posh wingers.
It was all very strange and indeed the 4-4-1-1 formation was abandoned after 15 minutes by which time Posh were a goal down. Posh appeared to switch to 4-3-3, might well have changed briefly to a midfield diamond and definitely went 4-4-2 for the final half an hour after Forrester’s arrival as a second-half substitute lasted under 10 minutes thanks to nasty gash just above a knee. As Twitter announced after the game, the Red Arrows use fewer formations. None of them worked well enough to stop Posh attempting desperate long throws in the final moments despite the lack of anyone with a genuine long throw and the absence of much height in the side.
Oxford kept things much simpler and generally played the ball under the wind, helped by the presence of three ball-playing midfielders with experience of a higher level than League One. The conditions helped them take an early lead when centre-back Rob Dickie bundled the ball over the line after Posh ‘keeper Jonathan Bond had made a hash of a corner held up by the wind, but they were denied further goals by strong defensive blocks from Jack Baldwin, Steven Taylor, and most notably by Andrew Hughes on the stroke of half-time.
Posh had the elements at their backs in the second-half, but a horribly weak pass by Michael Doughty enabled James Henry to charge forward and smash a shot past Bond on the hour. The ‘keeper again didn’t cover himself with glory.
The Posh response was quick, and inevitably the result of a Marcus Maddison pass and a Marriott finish, helped on this occasion by a Danny Lloyd dummy. Marriott also spurned two chances to equalise, first by ignoring Lloyd’s untracked run into the penalty area and shooting wide from 20 yards and then by volleying Maddison’s glorious pass over the bar when he had time to bring the ball down. But Oxford looked as likely to score further goals as Posh with Bond sliding out well to block Gino van Kessel’s late effort.
A Posh draw would have been a steal to back up the robbery they committed at Bury which led to a four-day spell in the play-offs. All hope of a point had probably expired by the time Baldwin was dismissed for the second successive season in this fixture after collecting two second-half yellow cards. The second looked harsh, but Baldwin is a defender who takes a lot of risks, some of them unnecessary, which pretty much summed up Evans’ team selection.
Posh: Jonathan Bond, Liam Shephard, Andrew Hughes, Jack Baldwin. Steven Taylor, Michael Doughty, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Jermaine Anderson (sub Omar Bogle, 38 mins), Joe Ward (sub Chris Forrester, 46 mins, sub Danny Lloyd, 54 mins), Marcus Maddison, Jack Marriott.
Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Ryan Tafazolli, George Cooper, Junior Morias.
Oxford: Simon Eastwood, Ryan Ledson, Cameron Brannigan, John Mousinho, Rob Dickie, Ashley Smith-Brown, Alex Mowatt (sub Ricardinho, 88 mins), Todd Kane, James Henry, Jon Obika (sub Gino van Kessel, 46 mins), Wes Thomas (sub Isaac Buckley-Ricketts, 68 mins).
Unused substitutes: Scott Shearer, Aaron Martin, Josh Ruffels, Malachi Napa.
Goals: Posh - Marriott (63 mins).
Oxford - Dickie (5 mins), Henry (60 mins).
Sending-off: Posh - Baldwin (second caution, foul).
Cautions: Posh - Baldwin (foul), Maddison (dissent).
Oxford - Ledson (foul).
Referee: Rob Lewis 7
Attendance: 6,804 (708 Posh).