There’s a school of thought in football that 10 games is required before a sensible assessment of a season can be made.
If so, Peterborough United shouldn’t let last night’s (September 26) ragged display in defeat at Oldham last night overly-concern them, especially as the two previous beatings in this campaign have been followed by emphatic victories.
Third place after 10 games is a position most would have thought unlikely on August 5 (even super-optimistic chairman Darragh MacAnthony thought his side would be much stronger in the second half of the campaign) while starting better than all of last season’s losing play-off contenders is an encouraging statistic as is a 20-point return, a points-per-game ratio which would yield a promotion-clinching tally of 92 if replicated over an entire season.
New striker Jack Marriott is at the top of the League One scoring charts with eight goals, Marcus Maddison is widely accepted as one of the best players in the division, a goalkeeper as good as last season’s star number one is on the books, while Steven Taylor has added much-needed composure and experience to the defence.
Posh have also won games from the front and from behind. They’ve won using different formations and by employing clever tactical switches which have caught opponents on the hop and yet this game, far more than the home loss to an impressive Bradford City, did set a few alarm bells ringing.
The reputations of Gwion Edwards and Anthony Grant were enhanced in their absence last night. Edwards for his skills, pace and goal threat which were never going to be replaced by the willing, but limited Andrew Hughes, and Grant because he’s a midfielder who appears to enjoy tackling, something you couldn’t accuse central midfield pair Chris Forrester and Michael Doughty of last night.
Does the squad have enough strength in depth to cover the absence of key men? Posh sent a 17 year-old in Idris Kanu on 10 minutes before the break to replace unfortunate injury-victim Junior Morias at Boundary Park and the game largely passed him by. His probable replacement when out-of-form Oxford visit the ABAX Stadium on Saturday (September 30) will be a player who has yet to score a goal at League One level, although Ricky Miller’s energy and accurate shooting at least offered hope when he appeared 20 minutes from time last night.
To his credit Posh boss Grant McCann refused to offer any excuses for defeat. He dismissed what looked like a strong penalty claim for a push on Miller at 1-1, while concentrating on his own team’s failings, namely a sluggish start (still no first-half goals in September), a slow passing tempo and individual errors with Ryan Tafazolli’s weak header which helped 10-man opponents to sneak back in front 10 minutes from time the worst of them.
Of course Oldham received the proverbial boost by the dismissal of manager John Sheridan 24 hours before kick-off (Guy Branston and Roy Hodgson are currently proving changing bosses doesn’t always work), but ‘the Latics’ were still the team bottom of the table, having conceded at least two goals in every League One game and who hadn’t won a home match.
It felt strange then to see Posh line up with five defenders in their 3-4-1-2 starting line-up, even if it was the 11 who inspired last weekend’s wonderful win over Wigan. What an ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ performance this was.
Oldham started the game well, but even though their own form fizzled out quickly, they always looked the more determined and aggressive, essential qualities on Tuesday nights in front of small crowds.
Posh in contrast were lethargic. They bossed the ball for spells, most notably in the final 20 minutes of the first-half when they failed to put flamboyant debutant goalkeeper, Haiti international Johny Placide, under any pressure, and predictably after Oldham were reduced to 10 men when Brian Wilson was sent off after falling for Marcus Maddison’s clever trap and conceding a penalty.
Maddison converted that to equalise Eoin Doyle’s opener for Oldham eight minutes into the second period and it appeared Posh had used a ‘get out of jail free card’. Surely one of those ‘play poorly, but win’ victories so important to serious promotion contenders would now arrive.
Positive substitutions were made, but Placide made two superb stops to thwart birthday boy Maddison and one more to keep out a Miller rocket before Posh self destructed.
Tafizolli’s blunder was compounded by goalkeeper Jonathan Bond’s failure to stop a well-struck drive from Dan Gardner at his near post and five minutes from time home substitute Abdelhakim Ormani tricked his way past some non-tackling Posh players and set up Doyle for a tap-in.
Referee Anthony Backhouse commendably played eight minutes added time to counter some blatant time-wasting from the home side, but once Marriott, who had struck a post at the start of the second-half, had scrambled home in the 92nd minute, Posh didn’t threaten again despite some positive runs and crosses from Maddison.
Posh: Jonathan Bond, Steven Taylor, Jack Baldwin (sub Ricky Miller, 69 mins), Ryan Tafazolli, Liam Shephard (sub Da Silva Lopes, 61 mins), Andrew Hughes, Chris Forrester, Michael Doughty, Marcus Maddison, Junior Morias (sub Idris Kanu, 36 mins), Jack Marriott.
Unused substitutes: Danny Lloyd, Jermaine Anderson, Conor O’Malley, Alex Penny
Oldham: Johny Placide, Brian Wilson, Dan Gardner, Peter Clarke, Jack Byrne (sub Abdelhakim Omrani, 81 mins), Kean Bryan, Gevaro Nepomuceno (sub Cameron Dummigan 61 mins), Rob Hunt, Ousmane Fane, Eoin Doyle, Craig Davies (sub Ollie Banks, 63 mins).
Unused substitites: Jack Ruddy, Anthony Gerrard, Queensy Menig, Tope Obadeyi.
Goals: Posh - Maddison (pen, 59 mins), Marriott (90 + 2 mins).
Oldham - Doyle (53 mins & 85 mins), Gardner (80 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Da Silva Lopes (foul).
Oldham - Clarke (foul), Placide (time-wasting).
Referee: Anthony Backhouse 7
Attendance: 2,975 (263 Posh).