COMMENT: More on-field leadership required, the goalkeeper has started to wobble, an awful afternoon, but with some minor consolations
They didn’t lose and they remain second in League One within striking distance of leaders Hull City, but the faces on the Peterborough United players told the true story at the end of an admittedly pulsating 3-3 draw at Rochdale yesterday (March 20).
This was a huge opportunity missed. Posh should have been preparing for a tough game at Blackpool on Tuesday sitting just a point off top spot with two games in hand. They should have been four points clear of improving Sunderland. They should have closed the goal difference gap on their two biggest rivals which could well be important come the final reckoning at the beginning of May.
But instead they flopped. They froze, and from a position of total control against a team who now prop up the rest of the division, one with an appalling home record, they required a last-gasp penalty from top scorer Jonson Clarke-Harris to claim even a point.
Manager Darren Ferguson knew the significance of this result. He stomped off angrily at the final whistle before delivering a deservedly withering assessment of his team’s second-half display. The players knew it as well, probably before Fergie got stuck into them.
The full effect of the last two away games - one point and five goals conceded against two poor sides - won’t be known just yet. Posh can’t drop out of the automatic promotion places on Tuesday as Sunderland are without a game, but Fergie’s men have the toughest of run-ins so dropping points in this manner against this standard of opposition is a potentially ruinous moment.
OTHER TALKING POINTS
1) Posh weren’t great in the first-half yesterday, but they controlled possession so easily Rochdale rarely penetrated the visiting penalty area. Siriki Dembele’s high class goal was the perfect start, but it was a bolt from the blue. Posh created just two clearcut chances despite their dominance, both for Sammie Szmodics who muffed the first one before taking the second one expertly, right on the stroke of half time. That second goal should have been decisive, but instead Posh started the second half so slowly it encouraged a Rochdale side who had shocked promotion chasing Lincoln City at Sincil Bank a week before. Was it over-confidence? Possibly. But Ferguson was ranting and raving at his side before Dale pulled a goal back from the penalty spot 10 minutes after the re-start. He could see the danger signs, but a team on the field which included defenders with great experience in Mark Beevers and Nathan Thompson couldn’t raise their game. You rarely see captain Beevers get stuck into his players a la Mick Halsall, or indeed the referee like many other skippers do.
2) Posh were poor against Portsmouth on Tuesday, but ground out a valuable three points thanks to a strong defensive display and a calm, safe goalkeeper. That defensive reliability comes in handy when the attacking part of the game is not firing on all cylinders so the second-half collapse yesterday was a huge surprise. Dale’s penalty arrived after Posh lost two headers at a set-piece, the second goal was a poorly defended cross and header, and the third was just a mess with Dale players queueing up to score after left-sided defender Dan Butler was taken out of the game too easily. Posh hadn’t let three goals in during a single League One game all season until losing at home to Hull. It’s now happened twice in three matches.
3) Posh goalkeeper Christy Pym’s error count is creeping up. In the last six games he’s seen a corner fly directly over his head into the net (v Wigan), fumbled a harmless cross allowing a tap-in opening goal (v Burton), seen a header loop over his head (v Hull) and yesterday he made a right hash of a header which saw Rochdale equalise. Posh boss Darren Ferguson went out of his way to praise Pym after the win over Pompey on Tuesday. He might need another confidence boost before Blackpool. One big moment yesterday was the superb save Dale ‘keeper Gavin Buzuno made to stop Siriki Dembele making it 3-1 midway through the second-half. Restoring a two-goal lead then would surely have settled Posh down and knocked the stuffing out of Rochdale. Goood goalkeeping is so important.
4) Did fatigue play a part in a woeful second-half display? Ferguson didn’t mention it after the game, but Posh played 90 minutes on their stamina-sapping home surface on Tuesday, while Rochdale were resting up. Mind you Ethan Hamilton didn’t play on Tuesday and he didn’t look as full of running as usual.
5) Yesterday was the first time this season that the front three of Dembele, Clarke-Harris and Szmodics have scored in the same League One match. That is an encouraging sign as was the determination to find an equaliser after such a horrible three-minute spell saw them fall behind in the 90th minute. Dembele did well to keep the ball alive and Nathan Thompson was alert enough to win the equalising spot-kick. They, and the fact that the League One title is still in Posh hands, were small consolations on what turned out to be an awful afternoon.