PETERBOROUGH UNITED 1, FLEETWOOD TOWN 3: There were successes of sorts, but generally this was a dispiriting Posh performance
Peterborough United’s successes on opening day were twofold.
They’ve managed to reduce expectations to a much more realistic level by playing badly for 90 minutes and they delivered a brand of football against Fleetwood Town which certainly got fans out of their seats. The clatter in the stands caused by departing home fans when the visitors went 3-1 ahead 10 minutes from time was one of the loudest noises of a dispiriting afternoon at the Weston Homes Stadium.
“A collective nightmare,” screamed one instant post-match headline and no-one will protest on the grounds of accuracy. Posh played like a team with seven debutants - fewer though than last season when a home win arrived on the opening day - as the defence was fragile and error-prone, the midfield was cautious and predictable and the £2 million front two barely ventured into the same postcode.
But it’s the first day of the season. Strange results happen, often in Posh’s favour who had won their previous 10 League One matches in August and gone on to achieve precisely nothing. Portsmouth, whose transfer work in the summer appeared to be outstanding, lost at Shrewsbury today (August 3) while short-priced title favourites Sunderland needed a penalty to rescue a point at home to Oxford.
League One is a long haul. Getting the bumps out of the way early could work out in the long run. Luton couldn’t have looked anything less like a promotion-winning side when they were thumped at London Road last August and yet 12 months on they were involved in a thrilling Championship contest after romping to a the third tier title.
“I’ve lost the first game of a season and gone on to win promotion before,” Ferguson said, and he certainly did from this division with this club in the 2008-09 campaign when a 1-0 defeat at Southend was followed nine months later by a runners-up spot behind Leicester City and ahead of Leeds United.
That was with a settled team though. One with momentum from the season before. One alarming fact from this afternoon was how frustratingly poor the new signings were, most notably an all-new back four and goalkeeper who managed to ship three goals to a Fleetwood side who probably couldn’t believe their luck.
Cod Army boss Joey Barton might have had his tongue ever-so-slightly in cheek when describing this contest as a promotion six-pointer before the game, but it did express confidence in a busy summer of recruitment.
They didn’t have to work hard for these points though. A fourth-minute header from a corner from giant centre-back Harry Souttar was followed by a clasy 14th minute finish from Josh Morris and a well struck 81st-minute free-kick from Danny Andrew, the latter strike ending a contest that had threatened to spring into life when Ivan Toney volleyed home substitute Marcus Maddison’s precise free kick midway through the second period.
All three Fleetwood goals were gifts. Niall Mason needlessly conceded the corner from which Soutter totally dominated Mark Beevers and the Posh captain inexplicably let the ball bounce behind him for goal number two. Frankie Kent’s mistake and Mason’s foul led to the third goal, although goalkeeper Christy Pym’s lack of inches might also have been a factor.
Posh were little better heading in the other direction. It was 37 minutes before they mustered a shot on target when Fleetwood ‘keeper Alex Cairns kicked away Siriki Dembele’s low drive and 41 minutes before they won a corner.
Nothing much changed in terms of creating chances after the break either despite what the BBC recorded as 74% possession. That’s what sideways and backwards passing delivers, but it’s all rather pointless when it’s followed by huge diagonal punts forward which were inevitably gobbled up by a well-organised defence.
There was presumably some cunning plan going on as George Boyd often dropped extremely deep to find possession, while two disappointing full-backs started to play very narrow, but whatever it was it didn’t come off.
Boyd, midfield partner Alex Woodyard and Dembele all looked busy, but no-one could take control of the game which rather left record signing Mo Eisa looking more than a little forlorn.
He wasn’t alone. There were plenty of long faces trudging along Bridge Street even before the final whistle.
Posh: Christy Pym, Niall Mason, Dan Butler, Frankie Kent, Mark Beevers, Alex Woodyard, George Boyd, Joe Ward (sub Marcus Maddison, 61 mins), Siriki Dembele, Mo Eisa, Ivan Toney. Unused substitutes: Aaron Chapman, Jason Naismith, Louis Reed, Frazer Blake-Tracy, Serhat Tasdemir, Idris Kanu.
Fleetwood: Alex Cairns, Lewie Coyle, Danny Andrew, Peter Clarke, Harry Souttar, Wes Burns, Conor McAleny (sub Paddy Madden, 69 mins), Josh Morris (sub Ashley Hunter, 75 mins), Paul Coutts (sub Jack Sowerby, 84 mins), Jordan Rossiter, Harrison Biggins. Unused substitutes: Billy Crellin, Ashley Eastham, Harvey Saunders, Ryan Rydel.
Goals: Posh -Toney (67 mins).
Fleetwood - Soutter (4 mins), Morris (14 mins), Andrew (81 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Toney (foul).
Fleetwood - Cairns (time-wasting), Coyle (time-wasting), Coutts (foul), Hunter (foul), Madden (foul), Biggins (foul).
Referee: Rob Lewis: 6
Attendance: 7,958 (115 Fleetwood).