‘Scared’ Peterborough United’s shotshy, slow, unambitious team look they will bow out of the Championship with a whimper rather than a roar

If Peterborough United are to be relegated from the Championship - and let’s be honest it’s already looking very likely - please don’t let it happen with the weakest of whimpers.

Sunday, 17th October 2021, 7:27 am
Peterborough United players protest to the match Referee John Busby after he awards Middlesbrough a late penalty. Photo: Joe Dent/theposh.com

The last time Posh went down from this division it was a glorious failure full of fight as well as some fantastic, aggressive and attacking football, in the second-half of the season at least. They also rescued Dwight Gayle from a football wilderness which helped.

Compare that with what Posh fans have witnessed so far in this campaign, away from home at least. Faced with a team with ONE fit defender at Middlesbrough yesterday (October 16), and he’s 36 years old, Darren Ferguson’s side managed ZERO shots on target and only six shots on goal all game, and that included a 40 yard swipe from centre-back Mark Beevers, a sure sign of a team running out of ideas, in this case after barely a quarter of the game.

This Posh team is playing scared football. They enjoyed 60% possession yesterday, a most irrelevant stat as most of it was secured with safe sideways and backwards passing at a tempo which would have seemed slow to a sloth. Defenders retreat rather than confronting opponents, central midfielders fall back whenever two wing-backs advance beyond halfway and forwards drop deep just to play another pass with little ambition attached. Everyone appears terrified of making a mistake, and yet they still do, regularly, and no-one wants to take the responsibility of an effort on goal. Siriki Dembele, the team’s most gifted player, trying to pass inside to a defender when he had a clear shooting chance from inside the area when racing through midway through the second half was an astonishing moment. It all smacks of a team with very little confidence and already the 13th game of the season at an equally poor Hull City side on Wednesday night (October 20) looks like a huge match.

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Sammie Szmodics in action for Posh at Middlesbrough. Photo: Joe Dent/theposh.com.

OTHER TALKING POINTS...

1) Referee John Busby was the hero of London Road last season when a shocking last-gasp penalty decision in favour of Posh secured promotion from League One. He had presumably enjoyed a fine season as he also won promotion to the Championship, but based on performances yesterday both he and Posh will back at League One level next season. From the minute Dembele was assaulted by Jonny Howson with a tackle that was a borderline red card in these soft days, but didn’t even draw a foul, Busby was hopeless. His foul detection was erratic as was the level of punishment he offered. Dembele’s penalty claim was nailed on, Boro’s less so, although it was hard to argue with the award. Of course Posh might still have lost if they’d taken the lead as there was over half an hour to go, but it would have been good to find out.

2) Dembele and Sammie Szmodics were very bright in the opening five minutes. They found space, teammates found them and they looked set to give a makeshift defence a tough 90 minutes. But then they stopped. Dembele appeared unsettled by the early Howson challenge and he too often allowed defenders to step in front of him and intercept passes. Dembele needs to play deeper and should switch with Szmodics who often lacks the technical quality to involve teammates, although he did play the pass that should have led to a penalty. Szmodics will usually hit the target when he shoots though and he wouldn’t pass up the sort of opportunity Dembele did yesterday. Posh need to get him into the penalty area with the ball at his feet something that only happened in the opening stages yesterday when his shot was blocked. Dembele’s substitution with 15 minute to go was baffling though, unless injury was involved. The chances of a Posh goal in his absence are slim.

3) Ferguson claimed his side controlled much of the game yesterday which the possession stats suggest is true, but only because keeping the ball was a priority over trying to open up the Boro defence. One second-half moment summed it all up when Ronnie Edwards sent the ball 60 yards back to his goalkeeper, very accurately, from 10 yards inside the Boro half. This negative passing is partly because of so little movement further forward. It’s most frustrating to watch.

Mark Beevers of Peterborough United in action against Middlesbrough. Photo: Joe Dent/teposh.com.

4) It’s tough to work out what the Posh gameplan was yesterday. Jorge Grant was the man in support of Szmodics and Dembele, but he was rarely seen on the ball in the first-half. When he did find space he didn’t receive a pass very often as the first thought of fellow midfielders Oliver Norburn and Jack Taylor was to turn back. Posh shoved their wing-backs up high when they could, but if they reached the Boro penalty area they would look up and see no-one to cross to and the ball would be recycled while the home side reorganised. Ferguson had asked the players to take the handbrake off away from home. When they did they went into reverse and it was desperate to watch.

5) Posh have a built a side with very little pace, aside from Dembele and Joe Ward. They’ve built a side with very little power, aside from Clarke-Harris. Set-pieces remain hopeless (Taylor is tall, he was nowhere near the Boro penalty area at Posh corners). All three are crucial qualities at Championship level.

6) If Nathan Thompson and Mark Beevers had watched the ball instead of the men they were marking, they would have realised there was no need to grab hold of opposition shirts as the corner they were defending was horribly overhit. It was disappointing stuff from the two most experienced players in the team.