Peterborough United have only played nine League One games, it’s still only September and inconsistencies are surely inevitable with so many new players at the club.
That’s the party line, although manager Darren Ferguson didn’t hide behind it when asked to sum up this witless, lethargic performance at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Like the vast majority of the near 2,000 Posh people at the ground he was stunned, not necessarily by a defeat at a neat and tidy home side bolstered by four players borrowed from a higher level, but by the manner of a 2-0 reverse which would have been considerably worse to look at if Doncaster’s shooting had been anything like as accurate as their passing.
There were no on-field controversies and no hopeless pieces of officiating to excuse this performance at this venue this season. Posh were outplayed and out-thought by a dominant home side.
As hard as he tried, despite feeling under the weather, there were also no moments of Marcus Maddison brilliance to bale Posh out and no goalscoring heroics from Ivan Toney to paper over weaknesses elsewhere, although the pair did combine in the 16th minute when the assist king’s superb pass was nodded onto the crossbar by the division’s top scorer, a crucial moment given how Posh have played this season.
“The performance came from nowhere,” Ferguson stated, which suggested he hadn’t watched the previous match at Tranmere that carefully. “We were a million miles away from where we needed to be.”
Dedicated professional that he is, Ferguson will already have pored over a video nasty and digested the statistics provided by the team of analysts that accompany the team everywhere these days.
Matches these days are analysed to death. Statistics are King and some haven’t made for pretty reading during the six-game unbeaten run that preceeded this defeat.
Ferguson’s team has been built to counter-attack so scoring first became vital, especially as they find it difficult to maintain possession as well as opponents.
If the BBC possession stats are more accurate than their claims of political neutrality, Posh have only held the ball for more time in a game than Sunderland (52%) since the opening day defeat by Fleetwood and that figure was distorted by playing against a side with nine men for 20 minutes.
Posh only delivered 36% possession when hitting Rochdale for six and 47% when walloping MK Dons away from home. Even Tranmere, who play a game based on workrate and effort, had the ball for longer against Posh.
It was 42% possession for Posh yesterday, which seemed generous to the naked eye.
Now I’m no disciple of these numbers, but teams with midfield and attacking threats, and admittedly they are not that plentiful in the third tier, will surely hurt you if you keep surrendering the ball to them?
It’s true that Posh have the attacking quality in the final third to achieve far more with less, but conceding two goals in the final 15 minutes of the first-half to James Coppinger and Kieran Sadlier left Fergie’s men groping unsuccessfully for the players (he made two substitutions at the break) and a suitable formation (he tried three) to get back into the game.
Only when the home side settled for a two-goal win late on did Posh sustain any pressure, but Toney was offside when he headed home Maddison’s cross before the latter struck the outside of a post from 25 yards in the final moments.
In truth 2-0 only flattered Posh. Ex-Poshies Jon Taylor and Sadlier tormented struggling full-backs with the former’s direct running marred by wayward finishing to the relief of a defence which had reacted slower than a 38-year-old to concede the opening goal.
Sadlier, who walked the walk after talking the talk again, set that one up again before outpacing Mark Beevers to pounce on a moment of defensive recklessness from Dan Butler, to score once more in front of away fans who are now starting to remember him.
Ben Whiteman missed a sitter by hitting the post in added time. A third goal was the least Doncaster and Posh deserved.
Posh: Christy Pym, Niall Mason, Dan Butler (sub Nathan Thompson, 46 mins), Frankie Kent, Mark Beevers, Louis Reed, Joe Ward (sub Siriki Dembele, 46 mins), Josh Knight, Marcus Maddison, Ivan Toney, Mo Eisa (sub Idria Kanu, 66 mins).
Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Rhys Bennett, Harrison Burrows, Serhat Tasdemir.
Doncaster: Sonny Dieng, Brad Halliday, Reece James, Tom Anderson, Cameron John, Ben Whiteman, Ben Sheaf, Jon Taylor (sub Madger Gomes, 87 mins), James Coppinger (sub Donervon Daniels, 87 mins), Kieran Sadlier (sub Alfie May, 81 mins), Niall Ennis.
Unused substitutes: Ian Lawlor, Shane Blaney, Will Longbottom, Alex Kiwomya.
Goals: Doncaster - Coppinger (31 mins), Sadlier (39).
Cautions: Doncaster - Ennis (foul), Gomes (simulation).
Referee: Ross Joyce 6
Attendance: 8,940 (1767 Posh).