Almost 6,500 people watched Dave Robertson’s job interview for the role of Peterborough United manager today (February 28). His radical decision to make a system fit the players available rather than the other way around will have won many of them over already.
Football fans and media are simple folk at heart. Give us commitment and easy-to-understand tactics and we’re usually pretty content. It was rather refreshing to watch defenders defend, wingers crossing the ball, and midfielders trying to create in possession and disrupt when the other side had the ball.
It’s true that lack of a natural goalscorer in the squad is likely to frustrate any serious ambitions of the play-offs (today’s front two of Kyle Vassell and Luke James haven’t scored a goal between then since September 6), but this was a very satisfying antidote to the shambles at stadium:mk in the team’s previous outing. Bradford City didn’t play well here, but they won at Stamford Bridge not so long ago so Posh, and particularly their rookie caretaker-manager, can be pleased with their efforts in grinding out a 2-0 win.
It took an own goal eight minutes after the break and a debatable penalty decision in injury time to secure victory, but quite frankly who cares? It’s unlikely Posh will be able to play too much scintillating football between now and May, but if they play with passion and a plan they might yet salvage something from the season, even if it’s only hope for the fans, who were again outstanding here, for future campaigns.
This wasn’t a great game - the playing surface pretty much guarantees that - but the players performed as though they weren’t overly-disappointed with the changes behind the scenes made last week.
Robertson didn’t play higher than United Counties Premier Division level and he has spent most of his coaching life working with kids, but man-of-the-match Gaby Zakuani spoke afterwards about ‘shackles being removed’ which might mean more than just centre-backs not being forced to perform 15 square passes before moving the ball forward.
And if the new boss does fail to land a job he covets on a permanent basis it won’t be because of a lack of bravery. His first selection sent shivers down a few spines as Ricardo Santos was re-introduced at centre-back to partner Gaby Zakuani. The latter’s presence was understandable, but Santos has looked ungainly, slow and error-prone in his Posh performances, the last of which was on December 28.
Zakuani even said afterwards (in a kind and supportive way) that playing alongside Santos was like playing FIFA as he had to control his partner’s movements for the entire 90 minutes, but they were mightily effective together. They smashed into aerial challenges from the start and, although Bradford clearly missed their giant centre-forward James Hanson, the Posh centre-backs still subdued two decent League One performers in Jon Stead and Billy Clarke, neither of whom managed to get a shot away all game.
Zakuani was quite magnificent. When he wins headers the ball flies 30 yards or so through the air. Santos has the physical attributes to play the position well, but Zakuani praised his concentration and application here and perhaps some of us have been hasty in writing the 6ft 7ins teenager off.
Posh played better before the break than after it. James saw a fine low shot turned aside by visiting ‘keeper Jordan Pickford in the seventh minute and from a Joe Newell corner Zakuani headed wide from a decent position. That missed opportunity might explain why Zakuani was so keen to claim the opening Posh goal soon after the re-start when it’s doubtful he even touched the ball.
Jon Taylor’s set-piece delivery was the one classy part of the goal. Pickford missed it under pressure from Santos and Bradford defender Stephen Darby diverted into his own net with Zakuani stood behind him grinning like a Cheshire Cat.
Bradford manager Phil Parkinson felt the free kick award was a soft one, but not as soft as the penalty given for handball against Alan Sheehan, a totally accidental act following a cross from substitute Harry Beautyman in the first minute of six minutes of added time. Thankfully Aaron Mclean wasn’t on the pitch to take the spot-kick off the designated taker and Bostwick duly blasted the ball home - it’s the first (of three) penalty conversion of the season for Posh.
In times of stress fans always fear the worst, but the second goal settled the nerves. James might have settled them earlier if he’d managed to get a better connection on another terrific delivery from Taylor, but in truth Bradford created very little once on-loan winger Oliver Burke had cracked a couple of 18-yard efforts over the crossbar,
The final ball from the visitors was usually awful. Their best opportunity arrived in the final moments when Billy Knott slipped as he started to take aim. Bradford have now failed to win a single Football League match in 15 attemps at Posh.
As job auditions go this was a pretty successful one, although Robertson is smart enough to know that standards must now be maintained. If his selection of Santos and the move of Bostwick into midfield had backfired it could have been the shortest honeymoon period of all time - instead for a few days at least he will be hailed as a tactical genius.
Robertson even gave a nod to his work as Posh Academy chief by handing a late Football League debut to teenager Harry Anderson. Knowing Robertson that would have given him as much pleasure and satisfaction as his own successful day.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith, Kgosi Nthle, Ricardo Santos, Gaby Zakuani, Jack Payne, Michael Bostwick, Jon Taylor (sub David Norris, 90 mins), Joe Newell, Luke James (sub, Harry Anderson, 82 mins), Kyle Vassell (sub Harry Beautyman, 68 mins). Unused substitutes: Dion-Curtis Henry, Erhun Oztumer, Christian Burgess, Shaun Brisley
Bradford City: Jordan Pickford, Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Alan Sheehan, Oliver Burke (sub Francois Zoko, 66 mins), Jason Kennedy (sub Mark Yeates, 76 mins), Billy Knott, Andy Halliday (sub Oliver McBurnie, 90 mins), Billy Clarke, Jon Stead. Unused substitutes: Ben Williams, James Meredith, Matthew Dolan, Christopher Routis.
Goals: Posh - Darby (og, 53 mins), Bostwick (pen, 90 + 1 min).
Cautions: Posh - Vassell (foul), Newell (foul).
Referee: Graham Horwood 7.
Attendance: 6,494 (785 Bradford).
More match reaction will appear on the Peterborough Telegraph website tomorrow.
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