How frustrating that a great game and a terrific performance actually ended with Peterborough United realistically further away from reaching the League One play-offs.
They gained a point on sixth-placed Doncaster from a 1-1 draw with Sunderland at the ABAX Stadium yesterday (April 22), but only because Grant McCann’s men didn’t play. If they now beat Accrington Stanley at home tonight Doncaster would have to do a Devon Loch to fail. Only Theresa May of recent times has been hopeless enough to give up such an obvious advantage.
Six points from three games would be enough for Doncaster given their superior goal difference and that’s only if Posh win their final three matches, one of which is at a Portsmouth side threatening to win automatic promotion thanks to a fantastic late run of form.
But you should never say never in football. Surprises do happen. Why even Christian Benteke scored over the Easter weekend and if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can land the Manchester United manager’s job, anything is possible.
One of the Norwegian’s predecessors Sir Alex Ferguson has enjoyed a week which has taken him from Barcelona to Fleetwood and now to Peterborough. Watching his son’s attempts to transform Posh is probably more enjoyable than watching the likes of Paul Pogba strolling about.
Darren Ferguson probably didn’t have the toiling Frenchman in mind when he stated after this cracker of a contest that ‘ability is worthless without character,’ but it was an apt description. He was actually using the phrase to praise his own players after they’d slugged it out with Sunderland in one of the best games - certainly played out in one of the best atmospheres - seen at the ABAX for some time.
The quality wasn’t always there, but for drama, tension, suspense and an amazing end-to-end finish this was as good as League One gets. ‘It was like a FIFA X-Box match,” said Posh full-back Jason Naismith, one of several home players delivering their most consistent form of the season.
Both teams needed to win, If Sunderland don’t finish in the top two with the help of parachute payments it will surely sting, while Posh needed three points to counter the agony of throwing two away in the last seconds at Fleetwood on Good Friday.
Sunderland looked set to win when Max Power blasted them ahead in the 88th minute, but Matt Godden’s precision finish a few minutes later made those visiting fans who danced on the playing surface after the first goal look look rather silly. There were still five of seven added minutes to go after Godden’s equaliser which the ball spent flying from end to end with Godden almost winning the game with a volley he possibly struck too well as it travelled at pace inches over the crossbar.
Neither team deserved to lose though. And neither team deserved to see their chances of success diminish, but that part happened. Sunderland, who play Portsmouth next Saturday, will now probably be forced into the play-offs.
In truth, based on yesterday, if they went up they’d probably have to replace as many players as Posh to achieve survival in the Championship. Sunderland have gifted wide players in attack and defence and power in midfield areas, but, after finishing the first-half completely on top, they were woeful in the second-half by failing to produce any quality in front of or around a Posh defence led superbly by Naismith and Rhys Bennett.
Chapman denied Jimmy Dunne and Aiden McGeady in quick succession towards the end of the first-half, but was untested after the break. Wyke’s miss when clean through on the half hour was a shocker.
Despite a hard-working, hard-running all-round effort Posh created very little until Ivan Toney was sent on to partner the admirable Godden. The pair combined for the equaliser and Toney was denied his shot at glory by a crude challenge by the otherwise excellent Luke O’Nien that probably deserved more than a yellow card.
Ferguson had predictably replaced Toney for the start, but more surprisingly he left out Lee Tomlin to hand George Cooper just his third League One start of the season. Cooper did well enough, but left before the frantic finale.
He was probably knackered just watching it like the bulk of the best crowd of the League One season at the ABAX.
Posh: Aaron Chapman, Jason Naismith, Daniel Lafferty, Rhys Bennett, Josh Knight, Alex Woodyard, Louis Reed (sub Ivan Toney, 72 mins), Siriki Dembele (sub Joe Ward, 64 mins), George Cooper (sub Lee Tomlin, 82 mins), Marcus Maddison, Matt Godden. .
Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Callum Cooke, Ben White, Harrison Burrows.
Sunderland: Jon McLaughlin, Luke O’Nein. Alim Ozturk, Jimmy Dunne, Bryan Oviedo, Max Power, Lee Cattermole, Lewis Morgan (sub Lyndon Gooch, 74 mins) George Honeyman (sub Will Grigg, 65 mins), Aiden McGeady (Chris Maguire, 79 mins), Charlie Wyke.
Unused substitutes: Robin Ruiter, Grant Leadbitter, Tom Flanagan, Denver Hume.
Goals: Posh - Godden (90 + 2 mins).
Sunderland - Power (88 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Lafferty (foul), Maddison (simulation).
Sunderland - Oveido (foul), O’Nein (foul).
Referee: Anthony Coggins 7
Attendance: 11,277 (3,782 Sunderland).