Posh find glory at the Theatre of Dreams

Has there ever been a more appropriately-named stadium than the Theatre of Dreams?
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Not as far as Posh are concerned after three goals in eight magical second-half minutes delivered a 3-0 League One Play-Off Final win over Huddersfield today (May 29, 2011).

Only super-optimist Darragh MacAnthony (he has more positive energy than a roomful of clairvoyants) would surely have predicted such an outcome as Posh had been under the cosh for most of the second half until breaking the deadlock in the 78th minute when Tommy Rowe glanced home Grant McCann’s superb free-kick.

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Craig Mackail-Smith, who had wasted two golden scoring opportunities at either end of the first half, immediately added a second with the aid of a generous deflection and McCann sealed victory with a quite brilliant dead-ball strike to leave Posh celebrating the final minutes without the need to shred any nerves.

Posh celebrate their League One play-off final win over Huddersfield.Posh celebrate their League One play-off final win over Huddersfield.
Posh celebrate their League One play-off final win over Huddersfield.

It was astonishing stuff which ended with everyone from the deserving MacAnthony to the club kitman celebrating in the middle of the Old Trafford pitch. Championship football is back at London Road and even the followers of Posh in the goal-laden sixties have surely never known such riches.

Three promotions in four seasons is a glorious run and who would bet against manager Darren Ferguson and MacAnthony (who clearly have a Liz Taylor/Richard Burton sort of relationship going on) master-minding more success by way of a survival plan?

The result clearly flattered Posh in terms of possession and territory, but Huddersfield perhaps paid for their lack of quality and a pre-match decision to stop their opponents playing rather than concentrating on their own forward strengths.

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Manager Lee Clark, who admitted he felt ‘horrendous’ at the final whistle (he talks like Cheryl Cole who is apparently equally miserable right now), deployed Scott Arfield to mark McCann and played just one up. As a result crosses that the excellent Gary Roberts delivered usually fell to Ryan Bennett and Gaby Zakuani, both of whom were outstanding.

Craig Mackail-Smith celebrates his goal for Posh v Huddersfield at Old Trafford.Craig Mackail-Smith celebrates his goal for Posh v Huddersfield at Old Trafford.
Craig Mackail-Smith celebrates his goal for Posh v Huddersfield at Old Trafford.

Posh were good in the opening 10 minutes and Mackail-Smith should have scored when Lee Tomlin flicked him through, but he delayed his shot so long, Anthony Kay raced back to divert the ball onto the outside of the post.

But the game soon developed into the one Huddersfield presumably wanted. There were too many stoppages and midfield was too crowded so chances at either end were as rare as good passing moves.

Only in first half injury-time did Benick Afobe waste Huddersfield’s best opportunity when blasting wide following a corner. Moments later and Mackail-Smith had poked another decent opportunity wide after Tomlin and George Boyd had engineered a fine break out of defence.

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Posh struggled to get out of their own half after the break as Huddersfield roared forward towards the end that housed their 32,000 hopeful fans who formed impressive banks of blue and white.

Grant McCann celebrates his goal for Posh against Huddersfield.Grant McCann celebrates his goal for Posh against Huddersfield.
Grant McCann celebrates his goal for Posh against Huddersfield.

Pressure mounted, but chances remained at a premium. Danny Ward struck the top of the crossbar after giving Grant Basey the slip, but he shot from an acute angle when others were better placed.

It’s best to score when on top against Posh because no matter how little they see of the ball, Ferguson has a strike force who will continue to create.

Posh also had good fortune on their side as Mackail-Smith appeared to be offside as Boyd was tripped on the edge of the area for the opening goal.

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Boyd’s pull-back then enabled Mackail-Smith to claim his 99th goal for the club (he ought to stay to get his 100th to be fair) courtesy of that cruel deflection within 60 seconds and Posh then threatened to run riot against a team who lost their shape and concentration.

Post-match victory celebrations for Posh.Post-match victory celebrations for Posh.
Post-match victory celebrations for Posh.

McCann’s 20-yard free-kick could have been followed by another for Tomlin, but that would have been harsh on a side who must now prepare for another season in League One after finishing the last campaign with an unbeaten 27-match run.

In contrast Posh are going up after a ropey sequence of games in the first half of the season and some indifferent form in the last couple of months.

Peaking at the right time is a skill on its own. Three wins out of three in play-off contests suggest Posh have an in-bred ability to do just that.

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The original Posh play-off hero ‘King’ Ken Charlery sent his own congratulatory text before the final whistle. One of Ferguson’s first post-match comments was to admit he’s put a smile back on his dad’s face, no mean feat in itself as Manchester United had lost to Barcelona in the Champions League Final the night before.

Even tougher challenges lie ahead for Fergie junior, but he seems well-equipped to cope. His own demeanour in the build-up to this game was one of cool composure – Posh are lucky to have him and fortunate that they have a chairman bold enough to buck popular opinion and go and get him.

Posh: Jones, Zakuani, Little, Bennett, Basey (sub Lee, 64 mins), Wesolowski, Rowe (sub Whelpdale, 84 mins), McCann, Tomlin (Sub Ball, 89 mins), Mackail-Smith, Boyd.

Subs not used: Richardson, Mendez-Laing, Newell, Langmead.

Huddersfield: Bennett, Naysmith, Peltier, Hunt, Clarke, Kilbane, Roberts, Arfield (sub Rhodes, 81 mins), Kay, Ward (sub Cadamarteri, 79 mins), Afobe (sub Lee, 81 mins). Subs not used: Colgan, Gudjonsson, McCombe, Novak.

Goals: Posh - Rowe (78 mins), Mackail-Smith (80 mins), McCann (86 mins).

Bookings: Posh - Lee, Tomlin.

Huddersfield - Peltier, Hunt, Kay.

Referee: Steve Tanner 8

Attendance: 48,410