Only in the Checkatrade Trophy would a stunning penalty shootout take place slap bang in front of absolutely no-one with some of those charged with reporting on such glorious action having to peer round pillars to get a decent view.
League Two leaders Luton Town have embraced the competition few seem to care about (the Posh heirarchy are among the exceptions) with such half-heartedness they fielded a reserve team in this last-16 tie and didn’t even open the stand which usually houses the most passionate of home supporters. Off the field only a very loud matchday announcer seemed to give two hoots. His determined attempts to whip up excitement generally fell on deaf ears though despite a decent performance from a side changed almost completely from the one that lost to Newcastle in the FA Cup at the weekend.
Posh made just one unenforced change to their heroic FA Cup team, but delivered a display far removed from the one seen at Villa Park. ‘Understandably lethargic’ was manager Grant McCann’s only hint at criticism of a team who have clocked up over 1,300 miles on the road in six away matches since the start of December.
Few will remember the night Posh failed to beat a second string line-up in 90 minutes if McCann leads his team out at Wembley in early April though. Two more wins will enable Posh to protect their perfect winning record at the national stadium, although it’s an unregionalised draw from now on and the likes of Yeovil and Fleetwood have also reached the last eight so more of the ‘commitment and desire’ McCann saw at Kenilworth Road will be required.
Certainly Posh shouldn’t fear a penalty shoot out in the later stages. They reached the final of this competition with a semi-final shootout win at Swindon four years ago and the seven Posh players who made the nervy walk (if walking towards an empty stand can be so described) to the penalty spot completed their task with considerably more skill and precision than was seen in the previous 90 minutes.
There were 13 successful spotkicks, from centre-backs, full-backs and strikers without a goal this season, in a row before Posh ‘keeper Jonathan Bond moved comfortably low to his right to keep out Frankie Musonda’s effort and send 408 travelling fans into raptures, sort of. Credit to Posh skipper Jack Baldwin for his marvellous effort when a miss would have sent Posh spinning out and to centre-back partner Ryan Tafazolli for daring to follow a stuttering run up with a high class penalty, and to teenage substitute Idris Kanu who was in the horrible position of fifth taker and yet never looked like missing.
The post-match action was in direct contrast to much of what went before. Both sides started brightly with Jack Marriott taking just eight seconds to register a shot at goal and Bond reacting well to a decent 20-yard effort from Lawson D’Ath, also inside the first minute.
But Posh laboured in possession for the most part despite the obvious enthusiasm of Junior Morias and relied mainly on strong defence to get them through to the shootout. For all Luton’s bright first-half football they rarely opened Posh up, but Jordan Cook’s header that struck the foot of a post eight minutes before the break should really have been converted.
The best Posh moment arrived very late when substitutes Kanu and Jermaine Anderson almost completed lively cameos by creating an 88th-minute goal, but the latter’s low drive was wonderfully saved by Luton ‘keeper James Shea.
“I was disappointed to lose because our performance was good,” Luton manager Nathan Jones stated before adding, not with complete accuracy, “We more than matched a top eight side from the division above us who made no changes to their starting line-up from the weekend. We kept some dangerous attackers very quiet which was very pleasing.”
Marcus Maddison was certainly quiet as his importance to this team’s well-being was again writ large. Marriott on his return to the club that kept him on the substitutes’ bench delivered plenty of shots as usual, but none with his normal accuracy or venom, while Danny Lloyd found the impressively speedy Jack Stacey a formidable opponent.
Posh are still struggling to string two similar performances in a row together which is actually good news for this Saturday’s (January 13) daunting trip to League One leaders Wigan.
Posh: Jonathan Bond, Liam Shephard, Andrew Hughes, Jack Baldwin, Ryan Tafazolli, Anthony Grant, Leo Da Silva Lopes (sub Michael Doughty, 33 mins), Junior Morias (for Jermaine Anderson, 69 mins), Danny Lloyd (sub Idris Kanu, 58 mins), Jack Marriott, Marcus Maddison.
Unused substitutes: Alex Penny, Conor O’Malley, Lewis Freestone, Andrea Borg.
Luton: James Shea, Jack Stacey, Jordan Cook, Lawson D’Ath (sub Olly Lee, 84 mins), Alan Sheehan, Franki Musonda, Harry Cornick (sub Andrew Shinnie, 64 mins), Jack Senior, Luke Gambin (sub Josh McQuoid, 25 mins), Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, Akin Famewo.
Unused substitutes: James Justin, Dan Potts, Kavan Cotter, Harry Isted.
Caution: Luton - Senior (foul).
Referee: Anthony Coggins 7
Attendance: 2,253 (408 Posh).