Common sense suggests Peterborough United will become stronger as the season wears on...and isn’t that a scary prospect for the rest of League One?
A Posh squad that needed name tags in the summer to keep track of the new faces weren’t supposed to gel this quickly. Players recruited mainly from Scottish football and League Two would need time to get to know each other wouldn’t they? Even manager Steve Evans, not a shy man when it comes to highlighting his own strengths, wanted to be judged in January.
Six wins in seven unbeaten League One matches, four away wins out of four while scoring 13 goals and a place at the top of the table has blown that belief. Expectation levels are through the roof again as if Posh do improve as expected - and despite the results there are still faults to fix - this could turn out to be a record-busting campaign. Even the manager-of-the-month curse couldn’t stop them at Southend yesterday (September 8) as victory was achieved at a ground where Posh hopes are usually dashed.
Posh do need to find a way to stop conceding possession so easily. That in turn would cure the problem of inviting too much pressure which would then presumably help eradicate the moments of defensive doziness that almost turned a comfortable win into a frustrating draw or worse as the home side looked the only winners after completing a recovery from 2-0 down with 15 minutes to go.
But this is a resilient Posh team this time around. Sure, Evans has a strong substitutes bench, but multiple choices can cause confusion in the wrong hands. Yesterday the manager, apart from realising it was pointless asking one substitute Marcus Maddison to keep tabs on marauding home left-back Ben Coker a minute too late, played his hand perfectly. Posh were at their best in this game in that final period straight after conceding a potentially morale-crushing equaliser.
Maddison had a hand in the second Posh goal and the two other replacements called upon, Joe Ward and Ivan Toney, combined to seal a 3-2 win with a goal two minutes from time. Happliy Toney, whose training might have involved a cow’s backside, a banjo and a barn door after his woes at Stadium MK in his previous outing, was on hand to convert from close range after Ward’s shot had been parried by heavyweight goalkeeper David Stockdale. Credit too to Mark O’Hara who, after a near 90-minutes of covering every blade of grass at Roots Hall, played a terrific short pass to Ward.
Toney’s first goal for Posh also enabled Evans to puff his own chest out. “We paid a lot of money for Ivan, but we wanted him badly. We made an offer for his srvices early in the summer, but sensibly Ivan took his time. I was delighted he chose us over several other League One clubs and I was pleased to find out he told Barry Fry he made his decision based on my conversation with him.
“But because he came in late Jason Cummings and Matt Godden have developed a great partnership so Ivan knows he faces a fight to get a shirt off either of them. It’s going to be fun watching him try, It can only be good for the club.”
Managing such a gifted squad will test Evans. There will be players sitting on that substitutes’ bench thinking they should be playing. The boss introduced Jamie Walker for his full Posh debut yesterday in place of Ward in a move that didn’t come off as the classy Scot was withdrawn for Maddison soon after striking the top of the crossbar with a terrific 20-yard free-kick. Maddison, who looks up for the fight, also saw a shot deflect off a defender onto the crossbar as Posh pushed for that winning goal late on.
Godden had been in the right place to convert two set-pieces (one planned, one rather fortuitous) to give Posh what looked like an unassailable lead 11 minutes into the second-half, but the home side twice made inroads behind the Posh right-back position to draw level through Tom Hopper and Stephen McLaughlin before the game swung again in the final moments.
Luck is another key ingredient for promotion-chasing hopefuls and this was undoubtedly a good time to play Southend. They had 10 first-team players unavailable - four would have played according to local experts - and Friday night signing Stockdale looked jittery. Posh scored from each of their three shots on target, two of which might have been saved.
That’s the sort of ruthless finishing which will strike fear into future opponents, maybe even second-placed Portsmouth who visit the ABAX next Saturday (September 15).
Posh: Aaron Chapman, Jason Naismith, Colin Daniel, Rhys Bennett, Ryan Tafazolli, Alex Woodyard, Mark O’Hara, Jamie Walker (sub Marcus Maddison, 55 mins), Siriki Dembele (sub Joe Ward, 77 mins), Matt Godden, Jason Cummings (sub Ivan Toney, 70 mins).
Unused substitutes: Mark Tyler, George Cooper, Josh Yorwerth, Louis Reed.
Southend: David Stockdale, Elvis Bwomono, Ben Coker, John White, Michael Turner, Sam Manton, Timothee Dieng, Harry Bunn, Stephen McLaughlin (sub Shawn McCoulsky, 89 mins), Simon Cox (sub Theo Robinson, 84 mins), Tom Hopper.
Unused substitutes: Nathan Bishop, Taylor Moore, Michael Klass, Stephen Hendrie, Renei Batlokwa.
Goals: Posh - Godden (33 mins & 56 mins), Toney (88 mins).
Southend - Hopper (64 mins), McLaughlin (76 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Walker (foul).
Referee: Kevin Johnson 7.
Attendance: 6,551 (819 Posh).