Peterborough United suffered the mother of all collapses to end season on a heartbreaking note

Kwame Poku of Peterborough United in action with Reece James of Sheffield Wednesday. Photo: Joe Dent/ Poku of Peterborough United in action with Reece James of Sheffield Wednesday. Photo: Joe Dent/
Kwame Poku of Peterborough United in action with Reece James of Sheffield Wednesday. Photo: Joe Dent/
Peterborough United suffered the mother of all collapses to see their dreams of a Wembley final and promotion to the Championship dashed.

Posh, 4-0 up from the first leg against Sheffield Wednesday, were 2-0 down at the break, but still two goals in front on aggregate with 20 minutes to go.

They were one in front overall as we reached the eighth minute of six added minutes, but conceded to the last kick of the match.

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Remarkably Posh rallied to take an aggregate lead in extra time, but conceded another sloppy goal as Wednesday took the tie to penalties by virtue of a 5-1 scoreline.

It seemed inevitable Posh would lose that shootout and so it proved as Wednesday were perfect from the spot whereas Dan Butler struck the top of the crossbar with his attempt.

It was cruel, but also self-inflicted with the only real complaint the failure of referee David Webb to penalise, and send off, home substitute Aden Flint for a blatant tug back when Epron Mason-Clark was through on goal at the start of the second period of extra time. Posh were ahead at the time and that would probably have been a fatal blow for the hosts.

To be fair those moments all went in Posh’s favour in the first leg. It all made for a dramatic tie with Wednesday left to celebrate a record-breaking play-off comeback.

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All the talk beforehand was whether we would witness a sporting collapse of Devon Loch proportions or the mix of calm experience and youthful exuberance that had led Posh to a stunning home success six days earlier carrying the team to the national stadium.

Naturally Posh retained the same starting line-up that delivered such a splendid result. Experienced right-back Nathan Thompson returned to become one of three defenders on the substitutes’ bench with Joel Randall dropping out of the matchday squad.

Wednesday retained the three centre-back system that earned them a massive 96 points in the regular season and fielded four forwards, although Callum Paterson lined up as a wing-back with Liam Palmer moved into midfield for the first time this season. Legs and pace to put the Posh passing game under pressure must have been under-fire manager Darre Moore’s logic.

Moore whipped the home crowd up with a pre-recorded rallying call before the game which featured a montage of home goals. Could they get at least four in one game though?

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They had two in the first 25 minutes. Great for the home fans and the Sky cameras, but a nightmare for Posh who played some decent football when in possession before the break, but looked vulnerable when Wednesday launched the ball forward, which was often.

A ninth-minute penalty set Posh to panic stations when Joe Ward blocked Marvin Johnson’s run illegally. Michael Smith made no mistake from the spot, although Posh responded well to the steback.

Jack Taylor popped up in menacing positions and freed Kwame Poku whose right foot shot was saved by the left boot of home ‘keeper Cameron Dawson.

Posh then broke away from one of many Wednesday corners with Ephron Mason-Clark testing Dawson with a right-foot strike and again the goalkeeper was up to the task.

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A slip by Harrison Burrows enabled Paterson to cross for Josh Windass who volleyed over in the 24th minute, but a minute later Wednesday struck again, helped by some sloppy defending and a weak piece of goalkeeping as Norris punched only as far as Paterson who drilled the ball across goal for Lee Gregory to stab home.

Posh kept playing their football and Taylor kept finding space. This time he fed Mason-Clark whose shot was on target, but again Dawson got in the way.

Posh had to defend a few more Wednesday set-pieces before they could reach the comfort of the dressing room at half-time.

Darren Ferguson’s reaction to the first 45 minutes was to change both his full-backs. Off went Ward and Burrows and on came Thompson and Butler, a first backward step the manager had made in the entire tie.

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It almost worked although some of the defending in a very one-sided second half became very desperate.

Smith headed a corner over before Gregory’s superb overhead kick was excellently turned aside by Norris.

Edwards and Butler made terrific blocks and Norris saved well from a Paterson header.

Posh were inching towards Wembley when disaster struck again 20 minutes from time. The ball forward looked harmless enough, but two defenders got in a tangle and Reece James slipped through and then slipped the ball through the legs of Norris.

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Posh dug in. Josh Knight was sent on as Posh changed formation to three centre-backs.

The ball kept being launched into the penalty. Six minutes were added. Time was lost during that period and in the 98th minute one last long throw was hurled into the area.

The ball was kept alive, Clarke-Harris should have wellied it down the other end, but it was recycled, chipped to the back post, headed back across goal and Liam Palmer prodded home.

The home camp, including 30,000 in the stadium, were now understandably delirious, but Posh regrouped and played much better in the extra minutes.

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Ricky-Jade Jones was sent on and offered a decent outlet. Free kicks were won and Butler whipped one in in the 105th minute which Gregory headed into his own net under pressure from Thompson.

Posh had looked reasonably comfortable and still did at the start of the second period. Jones made a nuisance of himself, Mason-Clark pounced, Flint pulled him back and Mr Webb didn’t even award a free kick.

And further punishment arrived eight minutes from time when Posh fell asleep at the back, didn’t mark, and two simple passes presented Callum Paterson with a free shot at goal.

His first effort was blocked, but the rebound fell kindly and Paterson completed the finish.

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Posh pushed hard for a winner, but nothing materialised and a season that had threatened to finish in glorious fashion instead ended in total heartbreak.

Posh: Will Norris, Harrison Burrows (sub Dan Butler, 46 mins), Frankie Kent, Ronnie Edwards, Joe Ward (sub Nathan Thompson, 46 mins), Oliver Norburn, Hector Kyprianou (sub Ricky-Jade Jones, 93 mins), Jack Taylor, Ephron Mason-Clark (sub Kabongo Tshaimanga, 120 mins), Kwame Poku (sub Josh Knight, 80 mins), Jonson Clarke-Harris.

Unused subs: Will Blackmore, Ben Thompson.

Wednesday: Cameron Dawson, Dominic Iorfa (sub Aden Flint, 90 + 2 mins), Michael Ihiewke, Reece James (sub Will Vaulks, 87 mins), Liam Palmer, Callum Paterson, Barry Bannan, Marvin Johnson (sub Jaden Brown, 100 mins), Josh Windass, Lee Gregory (sub Jack Hunt, 108 mins), Michael Smith

Unused subs: David Stockdale, Tyreeq Bakinson, Dennis Adeniran

Goals: Posh – Gregory (og, 105 mins).

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Wednesday – Smith (pen, 9 mins), Gregory (25 mins), James (71 mins), Palmer (90 + 8 mins), Paterson (112 mins).

Cautions: Posh – Kyprianou (foul), Taylor (foul).

Wednesday – Palmer (deliberate handball), Bannan (foul), Ihiekwe (foul), Hunt (foul).

Referee: David Webb 8

Attendance: 31,835 (2,400 Posh approx).