A cracking 90th minute strike from substitute Joe Ward ensured Darren Ferguson enjoyed his best ever start to his Posh managerial career with a 2-2 draw at Bristol Rovers.
In two previous stints as manager Ferguson had lost his opening game and an unwanted hat-trick looked likely to arrive as Rovers reached the 90th minute 2-1 ahead.
But Siriki Dembele, another replacement, found Ward 25 yards from goal and his powerful shot whistled into the top corner to rescue a point that was merited on a much improved second-half display.
Posh were twice behind to goals from Tom Nichols, from the penalty spot, and Ollie Clarke. Top scorer Ivan Toney found Posh’s first equaliser.
Ferguson threw in a selection surprise by not picking attacking talent Marcus Maddison, one of two players the new manager has worked successfully with before. Midfielder Louis Reed was also demoted to the substitutes’ bench with skipper Alex Woodyard and Callum Cooke coming into a starting XI set up to play with a midfield diamond.
Of more interest was Ferguson’s ability to get Matt Godden scoring again and Lee Tomlin, his other former pupil, back somewhere near his best. If he could also tighten up the defence and bring consistency to the goalkeeping position, that fourth Posh promotion could still be within his grasp.
Sadly only the Tomlin bit looked like coming true in a first-half that showcased mainly defensive fallibility and poor passing.
There was a fear Posh would be weary after a tough January programme full of long trips and they were so flat at the beginning it was no surprise to see Rovers take an eighth minute lead from the penalty spot.
It was more of a surprise that former Posh striker Nichols scored it, with a terrific penalty after he’d apparently been tripped by retreating defender Rhys Bennett. Just why Bennett backed away and then backed away some more to let Nichols into the area was anyone’s guess, although there was some hesitation before unconvincing referee Lee Collins awarded the spot-kick.
Posh barely won a tackle or a header in that opening 20 minutes and were hopeless in possession with even Tomlin failing with outrageous as well as cunning passes while getting abuse from the home crowd as a result of a spell with Bristol City.
But when Tomlin did find his range he caused problems. His reverse pass on 20 minutes found Toney in the clear and his curling shot was well saved by home ‘keeper Jack Bonham.
Tomlin also fizzed a cross-shot just wide, but Rovers should have gone 2-0 up on the half hour after Posh were sliced open down the left. Chris Lines fired his shot into the sidenetting when he could easily have set up a better-placed teammate.
Posh equalised eight minutes before half-time when, inevitably, Tomlin’s pass found Toney beyond the home defence. He looked yards offside, but was allowed to advance and score after battling past Banham. A half-time video suggested it was a closer decision that it originally looked.
But a defensive calamity never looked far away and so it proved two minutes before the interval. Woodyard lost possession in a dangerous area, a couple of tackles were missed and goalkeeper Conor O’Malley for some reason decided to charge off his line when he wasn’t needed. Lines’ shot was blocked, but fell kindly for Clarke to chip skilfully into an empty net.
Toney should have equalised on the stroke of half-time after another cute Tomlin pass, but he dribbled a shot horribly wide.
Posh had another chance to equalise soon after the re-start as Dempsey did well to free Godden. He was through, but a fierce shot was well saved by Banham.
Posh enjoyed far more possession after the break, but regular offside flags halted many attacks and when Toney did escape legally into space his control from a fine Daniel Lafferty pass let him down.
Tomlin was surprisingly substituted 25 minutes from time and all Posh invention went with him. Rovers, who are battling against relegation, looked nervy, but also looked like holding out until Ward made a stunning impact.
Ferguson will know already that he has improvements to find if he’s going to be successful at Posh again, but he will also know he has players with decent individual ability in his squad.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Jason Naismith, Daniel Lafferty, Rhys Bennett, Ben White, Alex Woodyard, Callum Cooke, Kyle Dempsey (sub Joe Ward, 65 mins), Lee Tomlin (sub, Marcus Maddison, 65 mins), Ivan Toney, Matt Godden (sub Siriki Dembele, 74 mins).
Unused substitutes: Aaron Chapman, Louis Reed, George Cooper, Matt Stevens.
Rovers: Jack Bonham, Joe Partington, Tom Lockyer, Tony Craig, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Liam Sercombe, Ollie Clarke, Chris Lines, Alex Rodman, Tom Nichols (sub Alex Jakubiak, 71 mins), Gavin Reilly (sub James Clarke, 84 mins).
Unused substitutes: Adam Smith, Gabriel Osho, Ed Upson, Sam Matthews, Stefan Payne.
Goals: Posh - Toney (37 mins), Ward (90 mins).
Rovers - Nichols (pen, 8 mins), O. Clarke (43 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Tomlin (foul).
Referee: Lee Collins 5
Attendance: 6,851 (218 Posh).