Oh to be a fly on the wall when Peterborough United chairman Darragh MacAnthony met manager Grant McCann after this game.
MacAnthony is no shrinking violet. He’s not one to count to 10 when there’s an opinion to be offered. His passion for Posh - which would undoubtedly be far greater than the majority of his players managed to show on the pitch yesterday (October 14) - could well have led to views forthright enough to have stripped the paint from his office wall.
But apparently not. The chairman disclosed the details of that meeting today (October 15) and it was merely a tactic to boost the manager ahead of a gathering with a handful of reporters who double as fervant supporters of the club, and indeed of McCann. It’s not normally a local version of the Spanish Inquisition.
Win or lose McCann is usually pretty calm under questioning. The only time I’ve seen him ruffled was days after the sacking of his friend and assistant boss Lee Glover last season.
Still, it’s only right, in my opinion, that McAnthony backs McCann. It has been an alarming slump in form since the best team in League One was seen off at the end of last month, but form changes quickly as Oldham and Oxford have shown recently, and maybe Gillingham will in the near future.
With no prior knowledge of the meeting agenda between chairman and manager, it was a shock not to see McCann trembling in his shoes when he finally reached his post-match press debrief at 6.10pm (there had been a lot to discuss, obviously). Indeed he was remarkably calm, apologising to those whose deadlines had altered, before describing his boss’s mood as ‘frustrated’ which could well qualify as the understatement of the season so far.
MacAnthony is entitled to have stronger feelings than mere frustration. On the surface Posh are still in a decent position in seventh with a game in hand of many of those around them, but the last three League One matches - all of them lost, two against teams starting the day in the bottom two - suggest it’s rather more than an easily-dismissed blip.
Posh have deserved to lose all three of those games. They’ve been exposed as witless, toothless and error-prone, presumably to the dismay of a heavily-invested chairman who can see his promotion ambitions going up in smoke alongside his attendance targets. There were fewer than 5,000 paying Posh fans at the ABAX yesterday and that number will probably fall further thanks to an admission pricing policy that demands entertainment as well as positive results.
The more forgiving Posh fans will point to Gillingham’s late change of manager before this game - Oldham also changed the boss just before beating Posh - as an excuse, but should the promotion of coach Steve Lovell really have been more important than the absence of his top scorer and three senior defenders? Sure, Lovell apparently released his players from shackles and encouraged ambition, but it was still a team with one win all season and a paltry six goals scored.
A quick start in an attempt to demoralise struggling opponents would surely have sucked the life out of the Gills. But no, despite an attacking 4-4-2 line-up with Gwion Edwards and Marcus Maddison on the wings flattering for a few minutes, it was the visitors’ midfield diamond formation - a system Posh do know rather well - held sway, certainly for the opening 45 minutes when any pretty passing and slick forward movement was delivered by the underdogs.
Josh Parker’s bad miss on the half hour after a fine left-wing run from Jake Hessenthaler through some powderpuff tackles caused enough concern on the Posh bench to prompt some written instructions to be delivered to skipper Jack Baldwin. He was seen passing them on to midfielder Chris Forrester a few minutes later as they both trudged back to the centre circle following Lee Martin’s speculative strike into the corner of the Posh net.
Those instructions remain a mystery. Posh had been so poor up to this point it could well have been a shopping list amount of changes, but whatever was written appeared to confuse rather than inspire as goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, who had been slow to cover Martin’s goal-bound shot, had to make two terrific saves to thwart Parker and strike partner Elliott List before the break.
Gills coasted through the second-half, sensibly saving themselves for the visit of Wigan on Tuesday, with defensive discipline enough to keep the frantic, disjointed efforts from Posh at bay. Former Posh favourite Gaby Zakuani, who was given a generous round of applause by the Posh faithful after the match, would have been surprised how little he and his fellow defenders were tested by a team with a strong scoring record.
Only from two set-pieces did Posh threaten an equaliser. Jack Marriott struck the crossbar with a cracking effort direct from a free kick, while Marcus Maddison’s cross gave visiting goalkeeper Tomas Holy his one awkward moment of the second half. Holy had saved well to deny Ricky Miller soon after the Gillingham goal.
The problems are piling up for McCann who mentioned the advice/abuse he received from ‘4,000 managers’ during the match. Even club heroes are not immune from stick, from the terraces if not from the boardroom.
Miller is an issue. His confidence appears to be shot. Playing with Edwards, Maddison and Marriott ought to be a dream for the boy from Bretton, but he was anonymous here, understandably so when the pointless high ball is fired in his direction, but less so when Edwards is delivering excellence from the left side. The clear Posh man-of-the-match sent two crosses in that had ‘goal’ written all over them in the second-half, but Marriott headed the first wide and the second travelled along the six yard line with both strikers stood somewhere near the penalty spot.
Central midfield also looks weak despite numerous options. Anthony Grant endears himself to the crowd by charging around relentlessly - at least his effort won’t be questioned - but Chris Forrester is a pale shadow of the player who caused such a positive stir for most of his first 18 months at the club. Jermaine Anderson can’t yet be match fit, Michael Doughty wasn’t fit yesterday, while Leo Da Silva Lopes looks baffled at being asked to play in every position bar the one he’s most comfortable in.
Defensively the commitment is there - Steven Taylor put in a decent shift yesterday - but the back four were too easily beaten by forwards prepared to take them on. They get no protection from those directly in front of them.
Apart from all that, Posh are in great shape. And they aren’t as bad as Cobblers.
Posh: Jonathan Bond, Liam Shephard (sub Danny Lloyd, 75 mins), Andrew Hughes, Jack Baldwin, Steven Taylor, Anthony Grant (sub Leo Da Silva Lopes, 59 mins), Chris Forrester, Gwion Edwards, Marcus Maddison, Jack Marriott, Ricky Miller (sub Idris Kanu, 75 mins). Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Ryan Tafazolli, Jermaine Anderson, Morgan Penfold.
Gillingham: Tomas Holy, Max Ehmer, Gaby Zakuani, Bradley Garmston (sub Connor Olgilvie, 46 mins), Mark Byrne (sub Scott Wagstaff, 62 mins), Billy Bingham, Jake, Hessenthaler, Lee Martin, Josh Parker, Elliott List (sub Conor Wilkinson, 69 mins), Sean Clare. Unused substitutes: Stuart Nelson, Finn O’Mara, Darren Oldaker, Gregory Cundle.
Goals: Gillingham - Martin (35 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Baldwin (foul).
Gillingham - Hessenthaler (foul), Wagstaff (foul), Wilkinson (delaying the re-start).
Referee: Dean Whitestone 7
Attendance: 5,257 (401 Gillingham).