Peterborough United boss is keeping his critics quiet....for now
Peterborough United manager Steve Evans would probably have to engineer a 46-game winning streak and organise free admission to the ABAX Stadium to win over some of his critics.
Football fans can be stubborn. You suspect some would rather be proven right than celebrate success under a manager with stains on his character and a reputation, however undeserved, for physical, long ball football. Not that the man himself will care. Skin thicker than a rhino is a useful defence mechanism.
Those sceptics are quiet currently. Evans now has his own players in the building and six goals and six points sees Posh sitting pretty at the top end of League One.
Of course it means nothing yet - last season Grant McCann’s team delivered the same two early results, stretched that run to four straight wins and still ultimately flopped - as Posh may just have played the two worst sides in the division for all anyone knows, but yesterday’s (August 11) 4-1 win at Rochdale might also have sounded an alarm for the other teams fancying a shot at the Championship.
Posh were big and strong at the back, deadly from set-pieces, clever at winning those dead-ball situations and played brightly on the break, helped by some dazzling wingplay from little Siriki Dembele (Marcus who?) and the energy and movement of a front two with enough obvious potential to become a deadly pairing. Keep this form up and Posh may have spent £600k on a back-up striker in Ivan Toney.
‘It was only Rochdale’ will come the cry, but they’ve signed plenty of experience and knowhow this summer - 36 year-old midfielders David Perkins was among the best players on show - and shouldn’t have to fight an extended relegation battle this time around.
They also had the boost of a nonsense penalty decision awarded when full-back Joe Rafferty threw himself to the ground towards the end of an opening 20-minute period they had bossed, but eventually they were worn down by a Posh team who seem committed and together considering they were strangers a couple of months ago.
And, while much talk was made in the summer of Evans creating a land of the giants, his smallest player shone the brightest. Dembele will frustrate at times this season, but he will often delight as he did here by firing swerving shots at a confused home goalkeeper by crossing the ball accurately (as he did for Jason Cummings’ equalising and by delivering superb set-pieces (again, Marcus who?). It was Demeble’s cross that enabled Jason Cummings to head home a 25th minute equalsier, his set-piece that Cummings headed back across goal for Mark O’Hara to nod home for 2-1 and his cunning free kick that Dale ‘keeper Josh Lillis could only palm at the feet of Matt Godde. Dembele also forced Lillis to tip over the bar with a 25-yard blast early in the game and he struck the top of the crossbar from a similar distance after the break.
Posh led by two goals at the break giving Evans the opportunity to prove he is more interested in winning than enhancing the club’s reputation for all-out attacking football.
“There was no need to go all gung-ho to try and win 6-1,” Evans stated. “I know that’s the Posh way, but I want to make sure of three points first and that means staying solid and disciplined.”
Posh were certainly that after the break. Dale had threatened to pass their way through Posh at times in the first half and really should have made it 2-2 throught Matty Done just before Godden’s goal, but they lost their way after sending big Calvin Andrew on to partner big Aaron Wilbraham early in the second-half. Andrew terrorised Posh last season by pulling onto smaller opponents and winning crosses - that won’t happen to an Evans side complete with two big powerful full-backs.
Posh were happy to sit deep, clear crosses and block shots which they did so effectively ‘keeper Aaron Chapman was called into action just once late on to tip an Andrew header away from danger.
Posh looked just as likely to score the longer the game wore on and O’Hara strode away to finish the scoring in the fourth and final minute of added time to complete a most satisfying start for a team who ought to get stronger as the season develops.
Posh: Aaron Chapman, Jason Naismith, Colin Daniel, Rhys Bennett, Ryan Tafazolli, Alex Woodyard, Mark O’Hara, Siriki Dembele (sub Callum Cooke, 85 mins), Joe Ward, Matt Godden (sub Josh Yorwerth, 90 + 2 mins), Jason Cummings (sub Ivan Toney, 72 mins). Unused substitutes: Mark Tyler, Louis Reed, Tyler Denton, George Cooper.
Rochdale: Josh Lillis, Joe Rafferty (sub Calvin Andrew, 50 mins), Ryan Delaney, Harrison McGahey (sub Andy Cannon, 66 mins), MJ Williams, Callum Camps, Matty Done (sub Kgoisi Ntlhe, 77 mins), David Perkins, Aaron Wilbraham, Bradden Inman, Ian Henderson.
Unused substitutes: Jimmy McNulty, Ollie Rathbone, Brendan Moore, Daniel Adshead,
Goals: Posh - Cummings (26 mins), O’Hara (33 mins & 90 + 4 mins), Godden (45 + 3 mins).
Rochdale - Henderson (pen, 17 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Woodyard (foul)
Dale - McGahey (foul).
Referee: Anthony Backhouse (Cumbria) 6.
Attendance: 3,693 (565 Posh).