Dave Robertson has pretty much nailed the manager’s job down at Peterborough United.
The Posh caretaker-boss has sorted out the club’s form (three wins in three matches), the formation (4-4-2, no need for complications), players (Gaby Zakuani and Michael Bostwick are stars re-born), the weather and some much-appreciated good fortune (the match-winning goal against Leyton Orient today was wind-assisted, if not a complete fluke). If he can just get Luke James scoring a lengthy contract is surely in the bag.
When James does claim his first League One goal the roof at the ABAX Stadium may well blow off such is the popularity of the hard-working young striker. He almost netted with his first touch as a substitute today (March 7) but Orient ‘keeper Alex Cisak saved well with his feet. The London Road End roof still almost lifted at the end of 90 minutes though thanks to another Posh display full of commitment and defensive discipline, led by the irrepressible Zakuani who might just be better in the air than the Red Arrows.
Posh no longer a pretty team, but they are a far more effective one so far under this manager. They hadn’t managed three wins in a row all season under the previous boss, which might have had little or a lot to do with midfield diamonds, defenders whose first job was to see and execute a square pass and game-plans totally unsuited to the difficulties caused by a dreadful Posh playing surface.
‘Round pegs in round holes’ has become a favourite saying of Robertson who is too nice a bloke to intend that as criticism of his predecessor. The rest of us can still speculate though.
Robertson was rather more straightforward when asked about his own position at Posh. It’s a brave man who tries to dictate terms to club chairman Darragh MacAnthony, but at least he is speaking from a position of strength and he clearly has the backing of the players who should carry some weight in any discussion about prospective managers.
Indeed Robertson should take Bostwick and Zakuani along to any managerial meetings with the chairman. There can’t be too many better enforcers than those two in League One.
Bostwick was again a formidable presence in the centre of the park and is clearly well suited to a battle which this match quickly became. Orient settled down quicker than Posh, but their attempts at flowing, passing football were always likely to flounder on a bobbly surface and when the wind was blustery throughout.
“You have to be on the surface to realise how bad it is,” Orient defender Scott Cuthbert stated afterwards. “To be fair Peterborough like to play as we do, but it was hard work on that surface.”
Cuthbert went on to say that Posh striker Conor Washington and Aaron Mclean were a handful because of their ability to play ‘on the shoulder of the last defender’ which was an interesting comment because to the layman the club’s forwards might be the department that needs most work. The late red card for Marcus Maddison will be a big blow if the club do not win an appeal against a decision that could easily have gone in the play-maker’s favour.
So far at home under Robertson, who replaced his two starting strikers from the two previous wins today, Posh have scored via an own goal, a penalty and today’s fluke (in the eyes of everyone bar manager and scorer) from Jon Taylor. After 25 minutes of wind-affected inaction, Taylor’s right-wing cross looked horribly overhit until it appeared to run into a gust of wind and drop perfectly into the top corner of the net.
Recording the nature of the goals is not an attempt to diminish the Posh success (the two goals at Sheffield United were both beautifully struck), but the tap-ins, the one-one-ones and the positioning that helped Britt Assombalonga to score 33 goals last season has not rubbed off on the current crop.
Mclean headed the only other opportunity of the first-half over the bar from a Kgosi Ntlhe cross and after James had been denied by Cisak midway through the second-half, only Bostwick’s 30-yarder that landed on the roof of the net caused the Orient ‘keeper any concern.
But Ben Alwnick in the Posh goal was even less troubled. He had to make one outstanding save to keep out Jobi MacAnuff’s effort from a Luke O’Neill cross in the 55th minute, but otherwise he was just another admirer of a resolute back four.
Orient may well be in the relegation zone, but they have a pretty strong-looking set of strikers so a clean sheet against a team that had won their two previous away matches was an excellent effort.
Orient fashioned just two half-chances in the final 30 minutes, but both were from 20 yards and neither substitute Dean Cox nor Josh Wright managed to hit the target.
Hard to believe though that these two teams contested a play-off semi-final last season. Orient have clearly been distracted by changes behind the scenes and in the managerial dug-out, while Posh may well have been restricted by not making any changes to the latter.
O’Neill was the man ‘fouled’ by Maddison and his theatrics (they came to an end as soon as the red card was produced) did the Posh player no favour. Moments earlier O’Neill, who had earlier been cautioned, could well have walked after a poor challenge on Maddison at the other end of the field.
Such refereeing opinions could be crucial in such a ridiculously tight division. Today’s win moved Posh level with the team in sixth place, but three points wasn’t enough to keep them above Barnsley whose 3-0 win over Walsall took them above Robertson’s side on goals scored.
That’s one statistic that might frustrate Robertson, but he can console himself by becoming the first manager since Norman Rigby 48 years ago to win his first three matches as Posh manager. Rigby was a caretaker at the time and was rewarded with the manager’s job on a permanent basis soon afterwards.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith, Kgosi Ntlhe, Ricardo Santos, Gaby Zakuani, Jack Payne, Michael Bostwick, Jon Taylor (sub Kyle Vassell, 71 mins), Joe Newell (sub Marcus Maddison, 46 mins), Conor Washington, Aaron Mclean (sub Luke James, 64 mins). Unused substitutes: Dion-Curtis Henry, Christian Burgess, Harry Beautyman, David Norris.
Leyton Orient: Alex Cisak, Gary Sawyer, Scott Cuthbert, Mathieu Baudry, Josh Wright, Romain Vincelot (sub Marvin Bartley, 83 mins), Bradley Pritchard, Luke O’Neill, Jobi McAnuff (sub Dean Cox, 64 mins), Chris Dagnall, David Mooney (sub Darius Henderson, 55 mins). Unused substitutes: Gary Woods, Nathan Clarke, Jay Simpson, Andrea Dossena.
Goal: Posh - Taylor (25 mins).
Sending off: Posh -Maddison (serious foul play).
Cautions: Orient - O’Neill (delaying the re-start).
Referee: Mark Brown 5.
Attendance: 6,525 (597 Orient).