Peterborough United talking points from a hammering at Sheffield United: ‘Embarrassing, horrific, but hardly a match to define a season, defensive disaster, pockets of attacking promise, outstanding opponents and a remarkable foul count’
Of course the scoreline was embarrassing, and the defending on show was horrific at times, but losing at Sheffield United is far from a season-defining disaster for Peterborough United.
There were two divisions between these teams last season and there remains a huge gulf in terms of experience of performing in the top two divisions of English football.
Posh optimism came from the Blades own slow start to the season, but with the squad, manager and support they have it will be a major shock if they don’t finish in the Championship play-offs. They’ve strengthened since they last played and they will beat better teams than Posh very comfortably at Bramall Lane.
Posh have much humbler ambitions, but even they will seem a distant dream unless they can improve their performance level away from home.
They’ve only played six games in total, but they will face a confidence-sapping slump to the bottom of the table if Nottingham Forest beat Cardiff City at the City Ground today (September 12).
It would be daft to write Posh off after this horrible loss, but Tuesday’s trip to Reading, who reside above Darren Ferguson’s side only on goal difference, already feels like a big game.
OTHER TALKING POINTS FROM BRAMALL LANE...
1) Posh were missing their two most experienced defenders - Nathan Thompson and Mark Beevers - and boy did it show. There appeared to be no organisation and no leadership. It’s true players’ reputations tend to grow when they are absent from a struggling side, but surely Beevers and Thompson would have pulled teammates into position, made sure runners were tracked and that crosses didn’t fly into the penalty area with very little resistance. Posh had two attacking wing-backs on view yesterday and their opposite numbers constantly drifted behind them to collect accurate crosses. Joe Ward’s attempts to track the two goal-scoring runs of his man Ben Osborn were dismal. And Posh barely won a header of note in their own area even though the Blades were not a particularly big side by Championship standards.
2) Blackpool, promoted alongside Posh last season, beat promotion favourites Fulham 1-0 yesterday. That’s a great result and the ability to grind out wins with defensive discipline is crucial for likely relegation contenders. In contrast Posh were horribly weak at the back. Jack Marriott missed a big chance to shoot Posh 2-1 ahead early in the second-half yesterday, but you’d have to be remarkably partisan to believe it would have led to a different result. The home side were far too slick and bright for the Posh defence.
3) Twice yesterday Posh conceded two goals in the space of three minutes. They also conceded twice in three minutes on the opening day of the season at Luton Town. It’s a worrying trend which smacks of a team getting disappointed far too easily. Does panic set in as soon as they concede? Posh boss Darren Ferguson spoke of ‘abandoning the gameplan’ when they fall behind. They have to make life harder for opponents. Staying in a game can lead to frayed nerves, especially within teams who have been struggling. Posh almost grabbed an undeserved late equaliser at Preston because they kept the deficit to a single goal for 75 minutes.
4) Conor Coventry was overwhelmed on his Posh debut, but he won’t face many more gifted and strong midfields as the one Sheffield United were able to field. He should link up with his mate Jack Taylor at Reading and an effective partnership between that pair is going to be crucial. As poor as Posh were yesterday the Blades were the best opposition they’ve encountered by some distance. No long throws and no aimless hoofs a la West Brom and Cardiff. They presented different problems with clever movement, incisive passing and some high-class crossing.
5) Posh did have their moments on the ball. Jack Marriott’s hustle to win possession and finish was an obvious highlight, but there was also the occasional piece of exciting interplay between Ollie Norburn, Sammie Szmodics, Siriki Dembele and even marauding centre-back Josh Knight which threatened a goal. Knight showed his athleticism in those moments, but his defensive work has been disappointing so far this season and yesterday was the chance to play in his preferred position on the right.
6) How many goals do you see conceded to the high press these days? Derby botched an attempt to play out from the back at Birmingham on Friday night and twice yesterday Posh players (Knight and Dan Butler) actually lost possession after trying to dribble inside their own area during the first half. Knight also struck one attemped backpass out for a corner, but did Posh learn? Of course not, Frankie Kent’s weak straight pass out from the back early in the second half was intercepted and led to the hosts retaking the lead and within 15 minutes they were out of sight.
7) The foul count yesterday was a remarkable 18-1 in favour of Sheffield United and the one for Posh was a soft penalty decision. It’s true the side who dominates the ball will usually be fouled more, but no fouls conceded for 78 minutes? That must be some sort of record. Referee Stephen Martin’s failure to reward Marriott for robbing a defender and being brought down just inside the home half just before the break looked a howler and he missed a poor challenge on Conor Coventry late on, but otherwise those numbers were indicitive of how easily Posh were brushed aside. Martin wasn’t very good, but he didn’t influence the outcome.