REPORT: FULHAM 2, PETERBOROUGH UNITED 1: The new manager would have been encouraged even though his team were second best

New Peterborough United manager Grant McCann probably left Craven Cottage greatly encouraged tonight (February 23).

By Alan Swann
Wednesday, 23rd February 2022, 9:55 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th February 2022, 12:59 am
Josh Knight of Peterborough United blocks Neeskens Kebano of Fulham. Photo: Joe Dent/theposh.com.
Josh Knight of Peterborough United blocks Neeskens Kebano of Fulham. Photo: Joe Dent/theposh.com.

Not with the 2-1 scoreline obviously as Championship leaders Fulham were clearly the better side and would have won by more, but for some fine goalkeeping from Steven Benda.

But better sides than McCann’s new men have been beaten by far more here and his side kept plugging away, even pulling a goal back through substitute Jack Marriott’s splendid finish. Sadly it didn’t arrive until the 89th minute and Fulham closed the game out before paying homage again to one-man scoring machine Aleksandar Mitrovic who scored both of their goals to make it 33 for the season and there are still a couple of months to go.

Posh interim boss Matthew Etherington said he wouldn’t stray too far from Darren Ferguson’s playbook so one wondered if the new manager had an input into a team that showed five changes.

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In from the wilderness came Sammie Szmodics and Jorge Grant, while Harrison Burrows and Ronnie Edwards returned after injury. Jonson Clarke-Harris was restored to the starting line-up. Down to the substitutes’ bench went Jeando Fuchs, Jack Marriott and Callum Morton, while Nathan Thompson missed out because of injury and Hayden Coulson because of suspension.

Fulham left £12 million summer signing Harry Wilson on their bench which was just showing off really.

The Posh formation was unusual with Burrows playing as a left-back and Joe Ward playing wide right in midfield with Josh Knight holding a position between centre-back and right-back.

That left dangerous left winger Neeskens Kabano worryingly free. He’s a regular supplier of goals for Mitrovic who sent two headers on the Posh goal in the first 10 minutes.

Posh sat deep often with 11 men behind the ball. Fulham’s centre-backs often operated 15 yards inside the Posh half as there was no attacking pace and therefore no threat.

The defensive system worked insomuch as Fulham could find no space in and around the Posh area. Jean Sari’s deflected shot was easily held by ‘keeper Steven Benda.

Posh then delivered a shot on target in the 21st minute, yes really, but Reece Brown’s 20 yarder was weak and easily saved after a fine pass out from the back by Josh Knight.

Knight then lost possession, but made a great recovery tackle. A 20 yard Sari free-kick was then blocked by the defensive wall. Harrison Reed failed to control a high bouncing ball after Mitrovic had nodded it into his path.

Posh were comfortable, but a rash 28th minute challenge by Harrison Burrows on Mitrovic was an obvious penalty for referee Jarrod Gillett to give and the Serbian made no mistake from the spot to claim goal number 32 for the season. A second tier record apparently, but only if you believe football was invented less than 30 years ago.

It quickly became a game of attack v defence. One long clearance from Ronnie Edwards, who was excellent in the first-half, landed beyond the Fulham defence, but there was no Posh player within 30 yards.

Only when Szmodics tackled dozy goalkeeper Marek Rodak inside his six yard box did Fulham have any concerns, but the ball deflected out for a goalkick.

Posh were surely crying out for some attacking pace, but the same 11 trotted out for the second-half and were deployed in the same positions.

A fine pass from Ollie Norburn found Szmodics down the left, but his cross was overhit as Ward arrived at the far post.

But Posh were suddenly playing more positively and Fulham started to look a bit jittery.

A Clarke-Harris free kick from 22 yards hit Mitrovic on the head and nestled on the roof of the net, fooling the 795 Posh fans who thought it had gone in.

Little had been seen of young Fulham wizard Fabio Carvalho until he danced through several tackles before Reed’s shot was superbly tipped over by Benda. From the corner Mitrovic freed himself and headed badly wide.

But he was soon making amends. The risk of playing a more open game was the space it afforded to some gifted attacking players and on 63 minutes Kebano galloped away down the left and crossed perfectly for Mitrovic to volley home despite the best efforts of Benda.

It took a superb goaline clearance from Frankie Kent to stop an immediate third goal from substitute Ivan Cavaleiro.

The wind had now gone from Posh sails despite a positive double substitution 20 minutes from time. Cavaliero promptly forced Benda into a fine tip over the crossbar.

Posh did win a few corners and home keeper Marek Rodak flapped at one before Szmodics saw a shot blocked and Kent dribbled a 20-yarder wide.

But Fulham always looked more dangerous. Benda excelled again to keep out Carvalho from distance and Mitrovic sent a header straight at Benda before Posh substitute Callum Morton curled just wide from 20 yards after another replacement Ricky-Jade Jones had caused an issue with pace.

Mitrovic missed his golden chance for a hat-trick five minutes from time after collecting a superb pass from Seri on his chest. Benda’s save was equally outstanding.

Benda excelled again when keeping out Wilson’s close range volley and it actually led to the Posh goal. Burrows cleared long, Morton left Tosin Adarabioyo for dead and slipped in Marriott who delivered a superb first-time finish into the top corner.

Posh did get the ball into the home penalty area on a couple of occasions in added time without getting a shot away.

It would have been a travesty if Posh had equalised, but McCann’s takeaway would be there is plenty to work with. He’ll just need to find some extra quality. Maybe he can transfer some of his own.

Posh: Steven Benda, Harrison Burrows, Frankie Kent, Ronnie Edwards, Josh Knight, Joe Ward, Oliver Norburn, Reece Brown (sub Callum Morton, 71 mins), Jorge Grant, Sammie Szmodics (sub Ricky-Jade Jones, 77 mins), Jonson Clarke-Harris (sub Jack Marriott, 71 mins)

Unused substitutes: Subs: Dai Cornell, Bali Mumba, Jeando Fuchs, Kwame Poku.

Fulham: Marek Rodak, Neco Williams, Harrison Reed (sub Fabio Cavaleiro, 64 mins), Tim Ream, Tosin Adarabioyo, Antonee Robinson, Jean Michael Seri, Neeskens Kebano (sub Harry Wilson, 63 mins), Bobby De Cordova Reid (sub Josh Onomah, 83 mins), Fabio Carvalho, Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Unused subs: Paulo Gazzaniga, Kenny Tete, Michael Hector, Nathaniel Chalobah.

Goals: Posh - Marriott (89 mins).

Fulham - Mitrovic (pen, 28 mins, & 63 mins)

Cautions: Posh - Knight (foul).

Referee: Jarrod Gillett 8

Attendance: 17,387 (795 Posh).