TALKING POINTS: Posh should be confident of finishing above Sunderland, Siriki must start, defensive excellence, but a great chance to take a giant stride towards promotion was missed
It feels strange to be frustrated at sharing the spoils with such a huge club for League One level, but the reality is the Wearsiders are functional rather than a team full of flair, albeit one in great form, well organised, with a strong manager and a mercurial game-changing talent.
They deserved their point though if only for their domination of possession for the first quarter and the final 15 minutes. Posh were too timid at the start and appeared to lose belief once Aiden McGeady’s undoubted class rescued a point from a free kick nine minutes from time.
But Posh should believe they can finish above their illustrious opponents, if this display was a true reflection of the visitors’ ability.
Only one goalkeeper was making saves in this game. Sunderland Lee Burge enjoyed a fine match even though Posh were far from their most potent.
Posh looked a dejected outfit at the final whistle, probably because they knew they should have stopped Sunderland stretching their unbeaten League One run to an impressive 12 matches and taken a giant step towards automatic promotion. Both managers stated beforehand the result of the game would not be decisive, and most Posh fans would probably have taken a draw ahead of kick-off, but what a boost a victory would have been for either team.
OTHER TALKING POINTS FROM YESTERDAY’S GAME...
1) After the game Posh boss Darren Ferguson made a point of stating all goals conceded are avoidable, but that doesn’t mean individual blame needs to be apportioned. Goalkeeper Christy Pym copped most of the flak from fans for failing to save McGeady’s free kick, but Jack Taylor’s decision to try and play out rather than clip a first-time ball down the line in Siriki Dembele’s direction made him just as culpable. Sunderland, freshened up by four substitutes, were stirring at that point, but Posh were the team looking most likely to score. The visitors barely delivered a decent cross into the penalty area for two big forwards to feed off in the second half. They never looked like passing through Posh either as centre-backs Mark Beevers and Frankie Kent were outstanding.
2) I’m certain neither manager picked the right starting XI. There has been no suggestion from official sources that Dembele’s back problem stops him playing more than 30 minutes (he was seen holding his back in the post-match warmdown) so his omission from the starting line-up in such a big game was a shock. Sunderland started with midfielder Max Power at right-back, a player Dembele would have fancied taking on. After Dembele had scored within 10 minutes of his introuduction, Sunderland sent on a recognised right-back to mark him. That’s how concerned they were. Sunderland boss Lee Johnson hinted at making a team selection to suit the dodgy Posh playing surface which is presumably why he gave a full debut to lanky forward Ross Stewart alongside top scorer Charlie Wyke, another big man, so the long ball would be an option. I doubt that will happen again. When Lynden Gooch came on for the final quarter his speed and trickery, admittedly from a deeper position, caused far more problems than the efforts of the two giants up top.
3) Jonson Clarke-Harris and Sammie Szmodics would presumably like Dembele in and around them. Burrows plays because of the quality of his crossing, and one nearly led to the excellent Luke O’Nien putting through his own net, but Dembele’s presence would give opposition defenders more to worry about which would help free up Clarke-Harris and Szmodics who struggled in open play in both Easter matches.
4) Sunderland rescued their season when replacing Phil Parkinson with Johnson. Parkinson had exiled McGeady, one of the few players on view yesterday you’d confidently expect to successfully make the step up to the Championship. One of Johnson’s first moves was to bring the Irish international back into the fold. McGeady’s classy goal yesterday was only his fourth in 23 appearances, but he has also contributed 12 assists. The numbers are identical to Joe Ward’s, but from seven fewer matches.
5) McGeady didn’t play well yesterday by his standards. He and Rangers loanee Jordan Jones were key men in Sunderland’s gameplan which presumably involved two talented wingers delivering plenty of crosses to Stewart and Wyke. But Nathan Thompson was so good against McGeady the Sunderland man was sent inside towards the end. Johnson admitted afterwards he was impressed by the Posh defending. Thompson, captain Mark Beevers and Frankie Kent were excellent with Dan Butler’s defensive performance let down somewhat by his erratic passing.
6) It was a surprise such a high profile game live on the television didn’t attract a higher ranked refereeing team. Craig Hicks was poor in the middle. His cautions for Dan Butler and Louis Reed were correct, but he was too lenient on a couple of occasions when Posh attempts to break were cynically interrupted. Hicks sent two Sunderland players off in this fixtire last season, but he seemed intent on avoiding upsetting them again, even to the extent of allowing the visitors two shots at goal while Nathan Thompson lay prostrate in the penalty area holding his head. Hicks didn’t issue a single yellow card to the visiting team. There were also too many soft free-kicks and too many decisions made following loud appeals. There was a Premier League referee at Barrow and a Championship referee at Ipswich on Good Friday. Presumably Hicks has enjoyed a good season to be appointed to this game, but he didn’t impress. It’s said Sunderland have benefitted from many decisions this season. Posh lost at the Stadium of Light in September to a poor penalty decision.
7) Check this run of fixtures to the end of the season: Burton (home), Crewe (away), MK Dons (away), Swindon (away). Bristol Rovers (home), Accrington (away), Wimbledon (away), Accrington (home). It belongs to Portsmouth who have just won four League One games on the spin under new boss Danny Cowley. They are nine points behind Posh with a game in hand, but with a run-in like that it would be foolish to rule them out of the promotion race, especially given the fixtures Posh and Sunderland still have to play.