Lots of love for the Peterborough United manager and his players on a special night for the club
Football eh? It makes fools of us all, especially those who had written Peterborough United’s 2018-19 League One obituary in the belief they had no chance of pulling off the necessary win at Portsmouth last night (April 30).
Posh had stunk Walsall out on Saturday. They had been beyond Huddersfield Town-levels of bad. Few Posh fans who witnessed that game - and unfortunately there were more than 1500 of them - would have given them a prayer of winning, just a few days later, at a team who still harboured hopes of automatic promotion. It would surely have taken Night King powers of resurrection to raise sagging spirits in time?
But no. That’s not how this sport works. Posh boss Darren Ferguson responded by making five changes to his starting line-up, moving a central defender into midfield, reminding Lee Tomlin that he’s far too good for League One, persuading Ivan Toney to recapture his pre-Christmas scoring form and then watching it all work out perfectly in a madcap, frenetic, crazy, but breathlessly brilliant spectacle that drew a deserved ovation from an 18,000-strong crowd at the end, even from those on the wrong side of the result.
No wonder Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony tweeted his ‘love’ for Ferguson after the game. One would imagine followers of Luton and Barnsley - promoted to the Championship as a result of Pompey’s demise - shared that emotion, for a few hours at least.
“We were too frantic,” Pompey’s normally pragmatic manager Kenny Jackett admitted after his side’s gung-ho approach backfired dramatically. They were, but on another day the shots superbly blocked by Posh defenders or kicked away by goalkeeper Aaron Chapman might have flown in. It also would have helped the home side if substitute Viv Soloman-Otabor had a working knowledge of the offside law.
The flying winger’s brain 73rd minute brain fade was the decisive moment in the contest. Pompey, who had fought back from 2-0 down to draw level, had pounced on Daniel Lafferty’s loose pass and sprung a three-on-one breakaway which quickly became two-on-none as Brett Pitman and Solomon-Otabor bore down on Chapman, but inexplicably the substitute ran ahead of his teammate before accepting a pass and sidefooting into an empty net - from an offside position.
Two minutes later Toney strolled past prostrate former Posh defender Christian Burgess to finish splendidly 15 minutes from time. It was his second of the game - his first had been his 20th goal of the season - and his first since February, and it knocked the stuffing out of a side who now had to score twice to maintain their own hopes of a top two finish.
Posh did ride their luck at times, but defended bravely throughout. Lee Tomlin’s first goal since January - a smart first-time finish from Marcus Maddison’s precise cross - and Toney’s header from Maddison’s header put them 2-0 up in 27 minutes before Ben Close and Burgess levelled the game before the hour mark.
Most in the ground expected, indeed hoped and prayed, that the home side would go on and win, but they reckoned without a level of determination and application that had Ferguson purring with pleasure after the game.
He was also delighted with the performance of Josh Knight in a midfield role, the resurgence of Tomlin and Toney and even a terrific 30-minute substitute appearance from Siriki Dembele.
Ferguson even found time to graciously congratulate Luton and Barnsley before no doubt starting the plans for a tricky game against a Burton side who beat table-topping Luton last time out.
It’s effectively a one-game shoot out with a Doncaster side who are still warm favourites to grab that final play-off place, but it’s Posh who have the manager with multiple promotions on his CV and that must count for plenty.
Posh: Aaron Chapman, Jason Naismith, Daniel Lafferty, Josh Knight, Ben White, Ryan Tafazolli, Alex Woodyard, Joe Ward (sub Siriki Dembele, 65 mins), Lee Tomlin, Marcus Maddison, Ivan Toney.
Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Tyler Denton, Callum Cooke, Harrison Burrows, Mathew Stevens, Rhys Bennett.
Portsmouth: Craig MacGillivray, Nathan Thompson, Christian Burgess, Matt Clarke, Lee Brown, Tom Naylor, Ben Close, Jamal Lowe, Brett Pitman, Ronan Curtis (sub Viv Solomon-Otabor, 53 mins), James Vaughan (sub Oliver Hawkins, 46 mins).
Unused substitutes: Alex Bass, Anton Walker, Omar Bogle, Bryn Morris, Gareth Evans.
Goals: Posh - Tomlin (13 mins), Toney (27 mins & 75 mins).
Pompey - Close (39 mins), Burgess (59 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Tomlin (dissent), Ward (foul), Woodyard (foul), Maddison (unsportsmanlike conduct).
Pompey - Brown (unsportsmanlike conduct), Lowe (foul).
Referee: Dean Whitestone 8.
Attendance: 18,235 (235 Posh).