Just over 10 years ago the Football Association introduced a pre-match handshake between opposing teams as part of their ‘Respect’ campaign.
It was a well-intentioned idea from the blazers, but one that quickly became meaningless, perverse even, in the murky world of professional football.
A cursory touch of hands, often made without eye-contact, is usually followed by 90 minutes of disrespect shown towards fellow professionals, members of the same union remember, and in particular to the match officials. It’s not just players who are well versed in gamesmanship while ignorant of the true meaning of sportsmanship. The dugouts, as Posh know too well, are often occupied by wound-up characters seeking any sort of advantage while turning a blind eye and cocking a deaf ear to the dubious goings-on of people on their own side.
And fans are far from blameless with opinions formed based on what side you support rather than the evidence in front of them.
Yesterday’s (February 9) League One contest between Doncaster and Peterborough United, with its intruiging managerial subplot as well as its status of a key game in the battle for the play-offs was one to savour, before the game at least.
But what followed left a sour taste in the mouth for lovers of the so-called ‘beautiful game’.
The final scoreline was almost incidental. Posh competed well for 45 minutes, led early, but suffered their third first-half red card of 2019, and their second in two matches, before conceding an own goal, a fortunate goal and a highly contentious goal all in 11 second-half minutes to finish well beaten.
It’s now three wins in 16 League One games for Posh who have finally dropped out of the play-off places to be replaced by their conquerors from yesterday. It’s not been much of a new manager bounce for Darren Ferguson. It might be the unluckiest start of all time though because Ferguson’s arrival has co-incided with a drop in on-field discipline and the first serious injuries Posh have suffered all season.
Now yesterday’s nonsense which included early cautions for time-wasting, some predictably hopeless officiating, an embarrassing attempt by Posh striker Ivan Toney to get an opponent sent off, a Doncaster substitute goading the Posh fans into an ill-advised bout of missile throwing and an immature fellow by the name of Mallik Wilks childishly mocking the visiting dugout as he was substituted, might well prove to be a useful smokescreen for Posh form.
Certainly the final Rovers goal provided that service as the hosts ignored one of football’s last remaining nods at playing fair. It wasn’t as blatant as some are suggesting as Posh goalkeeper Conor O’Malley rolled the ball out of play thinking that teammate Joe Ward required treatment. He did, after a late challenge went unpunished, but he was actually off the pitch roughly 100 yards away from O’Malley so there was no need in law for dismal referee Carl Boyeson to stop play.
Was there a need for Doncaster to return the ball to Posh though? I would say so. It’s true that players are not averse to feigning injuries to gain an advantage by stopping play unnecessarily, but O’Malley’s actions were obviously not designed with that in mind. Posh were already losing after all.
There was a suggestion after the game that a Doncaster player advised O’Malley to put the ball out of play and home striker John Marquis certainly looked sheepish when collecting the ball to take the throw-in, but urged on by his dugout, on-loan Liverpool midfielder Herbie Kane grabbed the ball and threw it to Kieran Sadlier who delivered a terrific finish before admitting after the game he was keen on celebrating in front of 1700 travelling fans, many of whom wouldn’t have a clue who he was after his one easily-forgettable performance for Posh several seasons ago.
An admirable local radio interviewer quizzed Doncaster manager Grant McCann on the incident and even broached the subject of letting his opponents ‘walk a goal in’ in response, but the former Posh boss, one who now probably has fewer fans at London Road than at the start of the game, was having none of that, preferring to blame the young Irish goalkeeper he had brought to Posh a couple of seasons earlier.
“I’ve no idea what they (Posh) are complaining at,” McCann insisted. “I’ve no idea who O’Malley put the ball out of play. We absolutely did nothing wrong. His centre-half should have told him what was going on. We did the right thing. My goalkeeper wouldn’t have kicked the ball out of play in that situation. It was a goalkeeping mistake.”
McCann was often mocked for his arms-folded approach when watching a Posh team that he was managing. Yesterday he was animated from the first whistle, moaning at an assistant referee about decisions he had no real view of, and clearly relishing putting one over a club who had justifiably sacked him almost 12 months earlier. Nothing wrong with that last point of course and he’s clearly now learnt how to play against a side reduced in mumbers. His witless approach to playing 50 minutes against nine men at MK Dons last season did give Posh some hope that George Cooper’s splendid sixth-minute strike would somehow be defended.
But no. Posh coped well with 10 men the previous weekend by shifting from a midfield diamond to three centre-backs. This time they went 4-4-1 which might also have worked if Toney had scored with one of two great headed opportunities in the opening 10 minutes of the second-half.
But Doncaster switched the play effectively and equalised when Ben White bundled the ball into his net at a corner in the 63rd minute before taking the lead within minutes after a horrible error by Rhys Bennett with the ball hitting two posts and Jason Naismith before Marquis fired home. Both teams struck the woodwork in the first-half before young Posh left-back Tyler Denton was sent off for a silly trip on Wilks having been cautioned earlier for time-wasting.
Boyeson’s appointment to this game just seven weeks after his dreadful handling of the important Boxing Day clash down the road at Barnsley caused a few Posh eyebrows to be raised and their concern was well-judged.
Boyeson appeared to react to crowd noise top deliver Denton’s initial caution and he looked so bewildered by the finish he failed to issue a couple of mandatory cautions to home players for cynical fouls.
He was right to ignore Posh urgings to dismiss Wilks for a clash with Toney on the stroke of half-time though. Toney’s dramatic fall to the ground was horrible to watch, but sadly an unsurprising spectacle in modern football.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Jason Naismith, Ben White, Rhys Bennett (sub Ryan Tafazolli, 71 mins), Tyler Denton, Alex Woodyard, Callum Cooke (sub Louis Reed, 71 mins), Joe Ward (sub Kyle Dempsey, 73 mins), George Cooper, Marcus Maddison, Ivan Toney.
Unused substitutes: Aaron Chapman, Matt Godden, Matt Stevens, Josh Knight.
Doncaster: Marko Marosi, Aaron Lewis (sub Matty Blair, 59 mins), Paul Downing, Tom Anderson, Danny Andrew, Ben Whiteman, Herbie Kane, Ali Crawford, James Coppinger (sub Kieran Sadlier, 69 mins), Mallik Wilks (sub Tyler Smith, 79 mins), John Marquis.
Unused substitutes: Louis Jones, Andy Butler, Tommy Rowe, Alfie May.
Goals: Posh - Cooper (6 mins).
Doncaster - White (own goal, 63 mins), Marquis (66 mins), Sadlier (73 mins).
Sending-off: Posh - Denton (second yellow, foul).
Cautions: Posh - Denton (time-wasting), Naismith (foul), Toney (foul).
Doncaster - Wilks (unsportsmanlike conduct), Downing (foul).
Referee: Carl Boyeson 4
Attendance: 9,627 (1,760 Posh).