Posh were fortunate to only be 2-0 down at the break at Whaddon Road after a shocking 45 minutes, but manager Grant McCann’s decision to make three substitutions and change formation transformed his side.
Where there had been defensive hesitation there was now determination. Where there had been impotence there was now impressive penetration as skipper Johnson Clarke Harris (2) and Jack Marriott scored the goals to seal the opening day points. ‘The best two forwards in League One’ McCann had called the pair before the game and they wasted no time in backing the boss up.
Marriott was one of those three half-time substitutions as was Joe Ward who supplied two assists with perfect right wing crosses.
There was a shock in the Posh starting line-up as Kwame Poku, the star of pre-season, was absent, presumed injured.The presence of Sammie Szmodics was also mildly surprising given a lucrative move to the Championship with Blackburn Rovers supposedly imminent.Nathan Thompson missed out through injury and centre-back Josh Knight moved across to cover him. Ricky Jade-Jones stepped up to replace Poku.Former Posh Academy graduate Lewis Freestone started for Cheltenham.
It was a promotion fancy against relegation candidates, but an ill-informed visitors wouldn’t have known who was who in the opening 45 minutes.
The hosts made all the running, scored twice after two calamitous pieces of defending, and should have scored two more. Posh created just one opportunity and that was from a huge hoof forward from debutant goalkeeper Lucas Bergstrom which found Clarke-Harris all alone in the home penalty area. His attempted lob was overhit and landed on the top of the crossbar before drifting over. It was the 41st minute by then and Posh were 2-0 down. It almost became three almost immediately when Alfie May turned Ronnie Edwards far too easily in the penalty area only to be thwarted by Bergstrom’s legs.
May had been more clinical a couple of minutes earlier when played through by Knight’s errant pass. That second goal arrived just nine minutes after the first when the pace and power of Nlundulu proved too much for Edwards and his cross was bundled over his own line by Frankie Kent.
Nludunlu had set up a shooting chance for Taylor Perry early on which was spurned before Freestone flashed a shot across goal as Posh wobbled.
It took Posh 13 minutes to muster a shot – a Clarke-Harris fizzer that was well saved – and 35 minutes to win a corner. The half-time was gratefully received by Posh and particularly McCann who promptly reshuffled his packto devastating effect.
Starting wingers Joel Randall and Jones were sacrficed as was central midfielder Jeando Fuchs who had picked up a caution. Ward, Ben Thompson and Marriott arrived and two of them combined to get Posh back into the game just before the hour mark.
Szmodics sent Ward scurrying away down the right wing and his low cross was stabbed home at the near post by Marriott.
Posh had started the second-half quickly with Kent missing a great chance to score from a free kick, but the hosts still carried a threat with May again forcing Bergstrom to save with his legs. That save looked even more crucial when Posh levelled following a rapid break.
Thompson’s terrific pass freed Burrows. His cross was poor, but not as bad as Charlie Raglan’s attempted clearance as it fell straight to Clarke-Harris who thumped the ball home on 66 minutes. And two goals in seven minutes became three in 15 minutes when another superb low cross from Ward was converted on the stretch by Clarke-Harris.
Incredibly 60 seconds later it took a stunning one-handed save from Bergstrom to keep out a fierce May strike as the game moved quickly from end-to end.
Ward could have capped a superb 45 minutes with a goal on 86 minutes, but blazed over after substitute Hector Kyprianou’s fine pass.
Bergstrom then just about got his 6ft 9in frame down to keep out a decent effort from home substitute Callum Ebanks before the final whistle blew.
The celebratons were long and loud in front of a sold-out away end of just over 1,000 Posh fans. There remains plenty to work on with this squad, but questioning the commitment and desire would be a huge mistake.
Posh: Lucas Bergstrom, Harrison Burrows, Frankie Kent, Ronnie Edwards, Josh Knight, Jeando Fuchs (sub Ben Thompson, 46 mins), Jack Taylor, Joel Randall (sub Jack Marriott, 46 mins), Ricky-Jade Jones (sub Joe Ward, 46 mins), Sammie Szmodics (sub Hecror Kyprinaou 78 mins), Jonson Clarke-Harris.Unused subs: Will Blackmore, David Ajiboye, Joe Tomlinson.Cheltenham: Luke Southwood, Lewis Freestone. Sean Long, Ben Williams (sub George Lloyd, 76 mins), Charlie Raglan, Liam Sercombe (sub Ellis Chaman, 82 mins), Ryan Jackson (sub Caleb Taylor, 76 mins), Elliot Bonds (sub Dan Adshead, 82 mins), Taylor Perry (sub Callum Ebanks, 76 mins), Alfie May, Dan NlunduluUnused subs: Shaun MacDonald, Grant Horton. Goals: Posh – Marriott (59 mins), Clarke-Harris (66 mins & 73 mins),Cheltenham – Kent (og, 30 mins), May (39 mins).Cautions: Posh – Fuchs (foul), Kent (foul)Cheltenham – Jackson (delaying the restart), Freestone (foul).Referee: Tom Nield.Attendance: 4,425 (1050 Posh)