League One’s top scorer was present as was the king of the assists, and yet Peterborough United still couldn’t beat a team that played like ‘Rag Arse Rovers’ for a lot of this game.
Rovers manager Darrell Clarke condemned his side’s poor performance soon after the final whistle. In the circumstances he was pleased with a point even if his side’s own play-off ambitions are now pretty much over. The draw didn’t do a lot for Posh’s chances either even though they are back up to sixth after another day of incompetence from others with an eye on the Championship. This was a chance missed to put distance between themselves and their immediate rivals before beginning a daunting run of away fixtures.
It’s a point that wasn’t lost on Posh manager Steve Evans. “We played well in spells,” Evans announced. “But we are blessed with so much quality we really should be taking care of this standard of opponent at home. The way the other results went again this was a huge opportunity for us to strengthen our position in the top six.”
Unfortunately that quality was neutered by some terrible decision-making, particularly from main men Jack Marriott and Marcus Maddison, both of whom delivered moments of selfishness which proved costly. For the second successive match Marriott, whose 29 goals this season have included few from outside the penalty area, shot hopefully from 20 yards rather than deliver the simple pass which would have played Danny Lloyd, a decent finisher himself, through on goal. Lloyd was buoyant at the time having just dragged Posh level with an opportunistic finish.
As for Maddison, his was a baffling performance which showcased why his Posh price tag is over a million pounds, but also why he’s closing in on four years at London Road. Maddison forced a fine save from Rovers’ ‘keeper Sam Slocombe with a low 20-yard drive, created the best first-half opportunity for Junior Morias with a superb pass, inevitably set up Lloyd’s goal with a peach of a cross and gave substitute George Cooper a chance of last-minute glory with a terrific shift of the ball under pressure.
But in between those moments he spurned obvious passes to team-mates galloping into far better positions, tried to score from the halfway line with predictable results, was shown too easily by defenders on to his far weaker right foot, and spent too much time on the floor appealing for optimistic free kicks. Referees continue to look harshly on Maddison because of his reputation and claims of a blatant penalty after a collision with Tom Broadbent were never likely to succeed.
Evans spoke afterwards of ‘making millions if he could get inside players’ heads’ which was aimed at Anthony Grant after his bizarre show of dissent towards referee Carl Boyeson, but could equally have applied to some of Maddison’s work.
If Evans can make one decisive impact on his inherited squad it would be to maintain Maddison’s undoubted match-winning potential while ditching the unattractive extras. Posh would be mid-table and Marriott’s goal tally would probably be halved without Maddison, and yet he is capable of so much more. It’s no exaggeration to suggest his contribution in the final eight games will make or break this particular Posh season.
Posh blew the obvious three points on offer here by failing to score when Rovers were at their worst in the opening half an hour. The tempo of Posh’s play and some accurate midfield passing from Grant and co ensured total domination of the ball against opponents who started with three centre-backs and wing-backs, but who were sloppy, wide open and vulnerable.
But Posh wasted that early promise with some wayward long-range shooting, or by not shooting at all, and when Morias failed to beat the onrushing Slocombe after Maddison’s fine pass had sent him through. Posh also failed to capitalise on Slocombe’s unease under crosses.
Clarke responded by making a 29th minute substitution and matching up Posh’s 4-4-2 formation. Evans did the same at Oxford last weekend, but crucially Posh were already behind then whereas Rovers had something to hold on to which they did by defending in numbers and surviving Cooper’s poor touch at the death after a fine Posh move, Morias heading Lloyd’s fine cross against the outside of a post and Andrew Hughes heading a last-gasp Cooper cross over the bar.
Rovers even led briefly when Tony Craig followed up his own header from a free kick to score from close range, but Lloyd’s leveller arrived within minutes, a goal which pushed Posh back up to sixth, for six days at least.
Evans channelled his inner Graham Westley by making six changes to his starting line-up, but his switch around prompted an improved performance with Grant delivering a fine display on his return.
The early departure of commanding centre-back Ryan Tafazolli certainly didn’t help as, although Hughes played well in his stead, substitute left-back Lewis Freestone struggled, almost presenting Rovers with a late winner with a sloppy late pass across his own penalty area.
Posh: Connor O’Malley, Liam Shephard, Andrew Hughes, Steven Taylor, Ryan Tafazolli (sub Lewis Freestone, 7 mins), Anthony Grant, Chris Forrester, Marcus Maddison, Junior Morias (sub Omar Bogle, 75 mins), Jack Marriott. Danny Lloyd (sub George Cooper, 88 mins).
Unused substitutes; Jonathan Bond, Michael Doughty, Jermaine Anderson, Joe Ward.
Bristol Rovers: Sam Slocombe, James Clarke, Tom Broadbent, Tony Craig, Joe Partington, Marc Bola (sub Rory Gaffney, 29 mins), Chris Lines, Ollie. Clarke, Liam Sercombe (sub Tom Nichols, 83 mins), Kyle Bennett (sub Bernard Mensah, 71 mins), Ellis Harrison.
Unused substitutes: Adam Smith, Dom Telford, Luke Russe, Cameron Hargreaves.
Goals: Posh - Lloyd (60 mins).
Rovers - Craig (55 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Grant (dissent), Hughes (foul).
Rovers - Bola (foul), O. Clarke (foul).
Referee: Carl Boyeson 7
Attendance: 5,953 (407 Rovers).