If Grant McCann has mastered anything in his brief foray into management, it’s success in local derbies.
And that’s not a bad skill to have. Three wins in four unbeaten games against Cobblers and now a first win at Cambridge United since 1989. The 1,100 in attendance at the Cambs Glass Stadium (formerly the Shabby Stadium) weren’t too bothered it arrived in the Checkatrade Trophy, a competition with more flaws than the UK’s political elite.
But, credit where credit is due, the Checkatrade draw fixers deserve praise from this part of the country. Just about the only way to generate interest in the early stages was to throw Posh, Cobblers and Cambridge together and a proper cup tie promptly broke out last night when a place in the last 32 and a possible home game against West Ham Under 21s was at stake. Actually forthcoming draws will probably be treated with indifference. This was about winning a first meeting with the local enemy for 16 years.
The strength of both line-ups suggested both clubs bought into that. The reaction of Cambridge chief Shaun Derry, who was spotted hammering on the referee’s door after the game, confirmed he was keen on victory in a competition he’d shown precious little appetite for in previous times.
“I’m hurting,” Derry said. “It was our biggest game in ages,” he added before blasting referee Gavin Ward for incorrectly awarding the corner which led to the opening goal of the game. He had a point as the ball appeared to ricochet behind the Cambridge goal off Jack Baldwin’s face.
Posh boss Grant McCann was understandably happier. He took a gamble of sorts in fielding what he perceives, a very promising young goalkeeper aside, to be his strongest team as excuses for failure would have been hard to accept.
But, as a point was all Posh required to go through, McCann was never in serious danger of searching for conciliatory words. Posh defended gamely against the strong wind and driving rain in the first half before finding enough quality to score twice after the break, either side of some pretty heavy home pressure which only grew in ferocity when substitute Jabo Ibehere joined fellow man mountain Uche Ikpeazu up front for the final quarter.
But Posh stood firm and saw out victory in front of 1,100 travelling fans. More than well-supported Bradford City attracted to a home Yorkshire derby last night, but fewer than the home support in defiance of most pre-match predictions. Posh, who have played as many as three divsions higher than Cambridge during their time apart, are a big scalp in these parts, even if many ‘Us’ fans were claiming otherwise after the game.
The atmosphere crackled as a result and, while good technical skills were not always obvious, the players on both sides delivered commitment and passion. The tempo was far quicker than seen at the ABAX Stadium in the greatest knockout competition of them all at the weekend.
Cambridge shaded the first-half, but Ikpeazu and Paul Lewis combined to spurn the best home chance with a couple of scuffed strikes across goal. Posh ‘keeper Conor O’Malley reacted well to keep out a low Greg Taylor effort from a corner that he must have seen late just before the break.
Jack Marriott’s volley on the turn proved to be the only test for Dimitar Mitov in the home goal, but he was beaten five minutes after the break as the wrongly-awarded corner broke to Michael Doughty on the edge of the penalty area. His impressive drive was parried by Mitov, but Marriott returned it across goal enabling Steven Taylor to lunge and score from close range. This man of many Premier League appearances then celebrated in front of the massed Posh ranks as though he’d won the FA Cup for his hometown Newcastle side.
Posh were then forced to repel numerous set plays and crosses into the box, but once O’Malley had made a superb stop to thwart Ibehere’s close-range header the home threat waned.
A strong burst forward from Anthony Grant created the chance 10 minutes from time for Marriott to add a second goal with the aid of a generous deflection.
Marriott had started up front with Danny Lloyd whose industry may well mean he will shed his status as a Checkatrade specialist this weekend. His presence enabled Maddison and, in particular, Gwion Edwards (a wing-back again last night) to return to positions in the 3-4-1-2 formation more suited to their strengths.
Lloyd’s selection may have been eased by an ill-timed illness to summer signing Ricky Miller, whose dream move to his local club is turning into something of a nightmare. Some medical experts on social media were doubting the official explanation for absence last night.
That’s an issue for another day now. Posh have qualified as group winners for Friday’s (November 10) draw for the last 32. Northampton have also qualified despite failing to win a game so competition organisers still have flaws to iron out.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Jack Baldwin, Steven Taylor, Ryan Tafazolli, Leo Da Silva Lopes (sub Andrew Hughes, 70 mins), Gwion Edwards (sub Idris Kanu, 82 mins), Michael Doughty, Anthony Grant, Danny Lloyd, Jack Marriott, Marcus Maddison (sub Jermaine Anderson, 82 mins).
Unused substitutes: Jonathan Bond, Liam Shephard, Chris Forrester, Callum Chettle.
Cambridge United: Dimitar Mitov, Brad Halliday, Jake Carroll, Greg Taylor, Leon Legge, Uche Ikpeazu (sub Ben Worman, 81 mins), Liam O’Neill, George Maris (sub Harrison Dunk, 60 mins), Jevani Brown (sub Jabo Ibehere, 60 mins), Medy Elito, Paul Lewis.
Unused substitutes: Finley Iron, Leon Davies, Matthew Foy, Kyle Howkins.
Goals: Posh - Taylor (50 mins), Marriott (81 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Edwards (foul).
Cambridge - Lewis (foul).
Referee: Gavin Ward 6
Attendance: 3,138 (1,123 Posh).