Peterborough United v Gillingham talking points: ‘Beaten by the awkward squad, lessons not learnt, Fergie’s promotion-winning experience is now crucial, a roughed-up defence, a gifted enigma and a Posh team still in a very good place’

Gillingham are League One’s awkward squad. You know what’s coming and you have to find a way of dealing with it.

By Alan Swann
Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 7:15 am
Siriki Dembele wasted this great chance to score for Posh against Gillingham. Photo: Joe Dent/
Siriki Dembele wasted this great chance to score for Posh against Gillingham. Photo: Joe Dent/

On their travels against the current top four in League One the Gills have won at Posh and Lincoln and drawn at Hull and Sunderland. They also won at sixth-placed Charlton.

Steve Evans is a manager who gets a lot out of limited players. They rode their luck at times last night and long balls and engineered physical confrontations will rarely be pretty to watch, but they deserved some sort of reward for their spirit, commitment and organisation.

As for Posh their start to the game was baffling, although not exactly unsurprising. They started slowly against strugglers Swindon and Northampton in their previous two matches, but didn’t concede. It was predictable a similar start last night (April 20) would cause bigger problems against a more dangerous team and it’s not as though Posh hadn’t been forewarned earlier in the season.

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Posh striker Jonson Clarke-Harris heads at the Gillingham goal. Photo: David Lowndes.

At Priestfield in February, Posh were pretty much penned into their own penalty area for 45 minutes and lucky to reach half-time only a goal behind before turning it around and winning rather comfortably.

It happened again last night only without the happy ending. The same Gillingham tactics, another deserved lead, but on this occasion Posh failed to fight back.

There was plenty of effort, but no end product to the delight of Lincoln City in particular whose three wins in a row makes them the biggest dangers to an automatic promotion party at London Road.


Posh star Sammie Szmodics lets fly against Gillingham. Photo: David Lowndes.

1) Let’s start with the good news. Second-place and seven points clear of third with four matches to go. That’s snatch your hand off stuff if presented as a scenario at the start of a season. Lincoln have a game in hand which could close the gap to four, but Hull, Charlton and Posh are among the Imps five remaining fixtures. Posh also have tough games on the horizon with Charlton away next up, but they also have two matches against a Doncaster side in freefall. Posh remain in a great place. One defeat hasn’t changed that too much.

2) Darren Ferguson’s experience of winning four previous Football League promotions really needs to come into play now. Defeat at Charlton on Saturday and all of a sudden the gap could be down to four points and, to paraphrase a different Ferguson family member, bums could start to squeak, especially if Lincoln, armed with that game in hand a trip to London Road to come, are the team leading the chase It’s the manager’s job to keep the players calm and focused, but also motivated and free of panic. He won’t have passionate fans to roar the team home in two of the last three matches. The desire to get over the line needs to come from within.

3) It was worrying to see Posh skipper Mark Beevers roughed up by powerful striker John Akinde last night. It looked like Posh had a plan early on to let Akinde flick the ball on unchallenged, but that was a dangerous game near your own penalty area. Next-up on Saturday for Beevers and co is Jayden Stockley who has been used as a big target man to great effect by Charlton in recent weeks. Posh must have a better plan and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see three centre-backs and wingbacks in play from the start.

4) Compare and contrast Reece Brown’s weak attempt to get out and stop Connor Ogilvie’s match-winning shot last night with the two Gillingham players who raced out to meet and block an Ethan Hamilton shot from the edge of the area towards the end of the game. To be fair to Brown he was soon supplying a superb ball which really should have led to a Siriki Dembele goal and those few minutes showed the dilemma Darren Ferguson has when choosing between Brown and Hamilton. One has far more quality on the ball than the other who happens to have the greater physical attributes. The decision who to play at Charlton could be settled by Brown’s hamstring problem.

5) Dembele remains a very talented enigma. He scampered away midway through the first-half and looked certain to equalise and yet didn’t even get a shot away after much pfaffing about. If I was him with all that pace and natural ability I would just turn and run at defenders whenever anywhere near the opposition penalty area. Too often last night he turned away from goal to lay off a simple pass to a (less naturally talented) teammate, but in the third minute of seven added on at the end of the game he accepted a short pass, breezed past a couple of defenders into the penalty area and the result was a simple chance that was muffed by Hamilton. Why it took 94 minutes for it to happen is mystifying.

6) It is quite impressive how Posh switch formations so comfortably without the need to make any substitutions. The move to wing-backs made an instant difference to the flow of the game. Obviously it would have been preferable for it to happen with the game still level though. Gillingham play very narrow so they can be vulnerable to opposition width. Joe Ward ran rings around Connor Ogilvie in the second half at Priestfield, but appeared reluctant to take him on here which was a surprise. The crossing from both flanks was a mixed bag, but there were enough good ones to have led to a goal or two.