Footballers, as Peterborough United’s are currently proving, can make managers and chairmen look pretty foolish.
Darren Ferguson, a surprising. controversial, but welcomed in some quarters, appointment, has been in charge of five Posh matches and it’s impossible to tell how well he’s doing, unless he’s to blame for an alarming run of ignorant ill-discipline which is undermining the push for the League One play-offs.
Ferguson is actually unbeaten in games of 11 v 11. Unfortunately he’s seen three of his players deservedly sent off in the first half of matches, all of which have been lost. Top scorer Ivan Toney was the latest culprit, joining Lee Tomlin and Tyler Denton as players making bone-headed, heat-of-the-moment decisions, to help turn a potential three points against struggling, hopelessly out-of-form, terrible travellers Shrewsbury into none. A second half red card, also the result of stupidity, for Shrewsbury skipper Ollie Norburn actually meant Posh played two thirds of the game on level terms numerically, but they lacked the wit and invention, as well as their only dangerous striker, to repair the damage caused by Toney’s indiscretion.
Jason Naismith’s early header had given Posh hope of returning to the play-off places, but instead the noise generated at the ABAX Stadium at the final whistle after a 2-1 defeat came from howls of anguish from a home crowd who clearly no longer wish to suffer in silence.
Toney’s decision to hook a goalbound shot from Omar Beckles off the line with his hand on 26 minutes to draw an inevitable red card was staggering. Shrewsbury were about to draw level from their first meaningful moment of the game, but there would still have been over an hour remaining, plenty of time to get back in front against a team who hadn’t won a League One game since December 22.
Even so defeat isn’t guaranteed with 10 men - lowly Walsall won 3-2 yesterday (February 23) after playing 85 minutes a man down and they haven’t had anywhere near the practice Posh have had playing with such a disadvantage - so the response of Ferguson’s side after Norburn had equalised from the spot was alarming and more than a little worrying.
There appeared to be no plan, other than to sensibly take Tomlin off and replace him with the more mobile Matt Godden, and no leadership or organisation on or off the field. Posh ditched the midfield diamond that isn’t threatening to work with these players, but sat so deep and so open, trouble was inevitable. The finish from Tyrese Campbell that ultimately won the game 10 minutes before the break was a fine one, but no-one on the pitch in a blue shirt defending a free kick 30 yards from the Posh goal suspecting a central striker wandering to the corner of the penalty area might be a threat was criminal.
Belatedly Posh switched to the wing-back and three centre-back system that had worked pretty well with 10 men against Plymouth in the last home match. Shrewsbury certainly threatened less, but Posh were also toothless without Toney. Posh passed the ball so slowly and with so little ambition, only when Marcus Maddison was delivering excellent set-pieces did a goal look likely with Naismith missing an immediate chance for 2-0 and Ryan Tafazolli sending headers at the end of each half into visiting goalkeeper Steve Arnold’s hands.
Ferguson’s post-match response was to make next Saturday’s home match with Wycombe a ‘must-win’ game, an optimistic outlook given his side’s terrible record at the ABAX Stadium this season and given the absence of Toney. Godden’s confidence looks shot and expecting rookie Mathew Stevens to successfully make the step up - as many in the crowd yesterday clearly believe he can - would be a giant leap of faith.
Signing a centre-back on loan rather than another forward during the January transfer window now looks a big mistake.
Posh: Conor O’Malley: Jason Naismith, Tyler Denton, Ben White, Ryan Tafazolli, Alex Woodyard (sub Louis Reed, 55 mins), Joe Ward, Kyle Dempsey (sub Matty Stevens, 83 mins), Lee Tomlin (sub Matt Godden, 29 mins), Marcus Maddison, Ivan Toney.
Unused substitutes: George Cooper, Rhys Bennett, Callum Cooke, Aaron Chapman.
Shrewsbury: Steve Arnold, Ro-Shaun Williams, Omar Beckles, Luke Waterfall, Scott Golbourne, Anthony Grant, Ollie Norburn, Shaun Whalley (sub James Bolton, 67 mins), Josh Laurent, Aaron Amadi-Holloway (sub Fejiri Okenbirihie, 72 mins), Tyrese Campbell (sub Greg Docherty, 61 mins).
Unused substitutes: Jonathan Mitchell, Matt Sadler, Ryan Sears, Stefan Payne.
Goals: Posh - Naismith (10 mins).
Shrews - Norburn (29 mins), Campbell (36 mins).
Sendings off: Posh - Toney (denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity).
Shrews - Norburn (second yellow, foul).
Cautions: Shrews - Norburn (foul), Okenabirhie (delaying the restart), Beckles (foul).
Referee: Kevin Johnson 6
Attendance: 6,260 (340 Shrewsbury).