Peterborough United suffered their first defeat under the management of Dave Robertson as promotion-chasing Preston proved too strong at Deepdale tonight (March 17).
A 20-yard strike from the impressive Daniel Johnson in the first-half and a six-yard tap-in from the mostly hopeless Jermaine Beckford delivered a deserved 2-0 win for the home side.
Posh battled gamely and generally restricted Preston to long-range shots, but they offered very little going forward, particularly in a scrappy second-half which consisted of numerous soft free-kicks awarded to strikers with a fondness for throwing themselves to the ground.
Professionalism the home fans would call it and it is one of Preston’s best qualities. They aren’t as easy on the eye (Johnson apart) as Swindon or Bristol City, but they are mightily effective.
Something of course had to give. Preston had surged into the automatic promotion places on the back of eight wins in nine League One matches, while Posh had won all four games under the management of Robertson - one more success and he would have broken a club record for a new boss.
Defeat was a new experience for Robertson, but he handled it well. His natural mindset is positive chirpiness and Posh could lose the next six games and that probably wouldn’t change. He’s also learnt the unwritten rule number one of managament and that’s to blame the officials for a defeat.
He had a point here as referee Geoff Eltringham delivered an irritating display (for Posh at least), punishing the visitors for the slightest bits of contact, yet allowing home players to indulge in wrestling moves at every attacking Posh set-piece. Eltringham was probably right just to issue a yellow card to Preston centre-back Paul Huntington when he dragged Luke James to the ground on the edge of the penalty area just before half-time, but such was his perfgormance it was a surprise he even recognised it as a foul.
For 25 the game was a nip and tuck affair. Chances were few and far between, but the movement of Preston’s forwards and the pace of Conor Washington on the break offered hope of a reakthrough at either end.
Joe Newell fizzed a shot narrowly wide from 25 yards in the opening stages. Kgosi Ntlhe and Gaby Zakauni threw their bodies into the way of shots from Tom Clarke and Paul Gallagher when Preston pressed.
Both sides should have scored within 60 seconds midway through the first-half as Beckford headed straight at Ben Alnwick from a Calum Robinson cross before Washington opted for control (he failed) seven yards from goal after a Jon Taylor shot deflected kindly into his path.
A more natural finisher (Britt Assombalonga for instance) would have lashed the ball at goal and most certainly have scored. Posh didn’t have another opportunity in the half until the dying moments when Taylor’s free kick, following that foul on James, was steered behind before Gaby Zakuani could pounce.
By then Posh were behind as Johnson, a livewire midfielder, was given too much time and space on the edge of the penalty area in the 37th minute and he finished superbly.
Posh didn’t learn their lesson as Johnson tested Alnwick again from a bit further out before the half came to a close.
Posh would have been hopeful of a positive response after the break, but they struggled to keep hold of a ball which spent an awful long time in the air and they were punished continually by Eltringham who bought just about every theatrical fall (and there were many) to the ground.
Taylor did break through two weak tackles to test Preston ‘keeper Sam Johnstone with a well-struck shot, but they produced precious little else.
The home side always looked the more likely to claim the second goal with Gallagher, who was setting a Football League record by making his 100th loan appearance for the same club, curling one 20-yarder just wide before the same player skipped round Michael Smith rather too easily before setting up Beckford for the sort of sitter even a player as bad he now is couldn’t miss.
Robertson was seen amongst the Posh fans before the game thanking them for their support. It was a terrific gesture and confirmed the bond between fans and new boss is strong.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith, Kgosi Ntlhe, Gaby Zakuani, Ricardo Santos, Jack Payne, Michael Bostwick (sub David Norris, 73 mins), Joe Newell, Jon Taylor, Conor Washington (sub Kyle Vassell, 54 mins). Luke James. Unused substitites: Dion-Curtis Henry, Harry Beautyman, Harry Anderson, Shaun Brisley, Christian Burgess.
Preston: Sam Johnstone, Bailey Wright, Scott Laird, Tom Clarke, Paul Huntington, John Welsh, Daniel Johnson, Callum Robinson (sub Calum Woods, 90 mins), Paul Gallagher, Jermaine Beckford (sub Chris Humphrey, 86 mins), Joe Garner (sub Kevin Davies 78 mins). Unsused substitutes: Thorsten Stuckmann, Neil Kilkenny, Kyel Reid, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.
Goals: Preston - Johnson (37 mins), Beckford (82 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Bostwick (foul).
Preston - Huntington (foul).
Referee: Geoff Eltringham 5
Attendance: 8,856 (204 Posh).