Steve Evans carries so much personal baggage fans can’t wait to get stuck in when things go wrong.
The latest Peterborough United manager has been in charge for eight games with someone else’s players. He most probably wouldn’t have signed half of the members of this unbalanced squad (lots of wingers, hardly any full-backs).
He also inherited the toughest of League One run-ins. If Posh fail to make the play-offs - and this damaging defeat coupled with the opposition lying in wait makes that most likely - it won’t be his fault even though he will be blamed by many who opposed his appointment in the first place.
The knockers have already ignored the absence of the two most reliable central defenders and the team’s most consistently creative player for a game against a limited yet determined Rochdale side with much to play for. They have already ignored a dominant second-half display (admittedly after the visitors had been reduced to 10 men), the heroics of Dale ‘keeper Josh Lillis and the latest in a succession of hopeless refereeing decisions that cost Gwion Edwards an equaliser 15 minutes from time to cast knowing comments about the ‘dinosaur’ in the dugout.
Actual results often colour the opinions of those who deliver instant reactions and Posh would have won this game rather comfortably on another day. They didn’t, not necessarily because of tactical problems in the technical area, but because the squad is too thin in certain areas. Yesterday (April 14) Posh lacked a striker with the ability to anticipate where the ball might drop in the penalty area, they lacked a midfielder capable of getting into the box to meet a succession of second-half crosses and they lacked attacking composure all over the pitch. Posh miss Grant McCann the player rather more than they miss Grant McCann the manager.
Evans is trying to make the most of what he has hence the constant tinkering before and during a game. It’s arguable that he’s the wrong manager for this set of players who have spent most of the season passing patiently, often before launching the ball in the direction of Jack Marriott. Evans wants that forward movement to take place far earlier and until Dale had their first-half goalscorer Ian Henderson sent off 10 minutes into the second-half for a desperate lunge at Edwards it never looked like working.
Down to 10 men Dale just defended their penalty area and rode their luck. Posh passed and probed, but then too often panicked. Lillis saved well from a Jack Baldwin header following a George Cooper free-kick and another set-piece from Cooper was spurned badly by Edwards six yards from goal. Lillis saved his best until the final moment when palming a terrific Danny Lloyd header past a post. Lloyd only played for the final 20 minutes which was a mistake as he’s far more likely to take up a goal-scoring position, and to convert, than Junior Morias. Michael Doughty’s ability to time a run into the penalty area possibly made him a better substitute option than teenager Idris Kanu, but those errors would have been forgotten somewhat if an assistant referee hadn’t wrongly flagged Edwards off-side 15 minutes from time after Lillis had palmed a Lloyd shot into his path.
A goal then would surely have given Posh the confidence and impetus to sneak a win that would have led to a return to the play-off places. Marriott’s close range shot that was deflected wide was another frustrating moment.
Posh had started the brighter in the first-half, but conceded a poor goal to Henderson on 16 minutes when a harmless cross was allowed to reach big Calvin Andrew. Posh ‘keeper Conor O’Malley made a decent save from his shot, but Henderson was on hand to escape a weak challenge from Cooper and fire high into the net.
Andrew, who hit the top of the bar from a late corner, was a handful for Posh all afternoon. Long ball games work better with a physical presence up top and such a striker may well find his way to the ABAX Stadium next season as part of, one suspects, a massive turnaround of players. The first half of next season will be the time to start judging Evans.
For now nothing much has changed in terms of actual results. Posh were 10th when McCann left at the end of February and now they are ninth. They’ve now lost seven League One home matches this season, many of them to struggling opponents.
As far as play-off hopes are concerned, the fat lady hasn’t started to sing yet, but she’s busy clearing her throat.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Liam Shephard, Lewis Freestone (sub Joe Ward, 54 mins), Jack Baldwin, Andrew Hughes, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Chris Forrester, George Cooper, Gwion Edwards (sub Idris Kanu, 83 mins), Junior Morias (sub Danny Lloyd, 72 mins), Jack Marriott.
Unused substitutes: Jonathan Bond, Anthony Grant, Jermaine Anderson, Michael Doughty.
Rochdale: Josh Lillis, Joe Rafferty, Jim McNulty, Harrison McGahey, Ollie Rathbone (sub Scott Wiseman, 60 mins), Ryan Delaney, Callum Camps (sub Joe Thompson, 67 mins), Mark Kitching (sub Kgosi Nthle, 60 mins), Matty Done, Ian Henderson, Calvin Andrew.
Unused substitutes: Brendan Moore, Stephen Humphrys, Steven Davies, Dan Adshead.
Goal: Dale - Henderson (16 mins).
Sending-off: Dale - Henderson (serious foul play).
Cautions: Dale - Camps (foul), Kitching (dissent).
Referee: Anthony Coggins 5
Attendance: 5,496 (224 Dale).