Two big beasts turned up from East and West at the ABAX Stadium last night (February 27) as a low key League One match turned into a contest guaranteed to travel straight into Peterborough United folklore.
The resignation from Mansfield Town of controversial manager Steve Evans and his subsequent appearance in the Posh director’s box had already whipped up a Twitter storm of some ferocity as his strengths, weaknesses and personal characteristics were all chewed over with passion and plenty of disagreement, when his meteorological equivalent rolled into town to offer a perfect level of sympathetic background.
After creating some of the most remarkable playing conditions ever seen at this stadium, the ‘Beast from the East’ eventually blew itself out. One suspects the ‘Beast from the West’ will blow harder for a lot longer. Boring it won’t be which is a step up at least from the the last couple of months.
Evans and assistant Paul Raynor won’t take any credit for last night’s most welcome win. That belongs to caretaker-boss David Oldfield (he stretched his perfect winning record to two matches in seven years of Posh management) and the players who responded to Grant McCann’s inevitable weekend departure by showing plenty of fight after a traumatic opening to this contest which included falling behind and instantly failing to equalise from the penalty spot.
It was far from perfect. Walsall understandably felt they deserved at least a point from a madcap 90 minutes and the Posh team’s obvious qualities and problems were laid bare while they moved into a most promising position in the League One table.
Evans would have enjoyed the hard running and selfless attitude of top scorer Jack Marriott, the inspirational leadership of Steven Taylor (even with a broom in his hand) and the commitment of club captain Jack Baldwin, even if that commitment gets him into some strange defensive positions, and the passing ability of midfielders Chris Forrester and Micheal Doughty.
Evans would not have enjoyed the woeful first 30 minutes from star man Marcus Maddison which included one of the softest penalties ever taken, the failure of Omar Bogle to match Marriott’s workrate, even if he did claim the crucial equaliser before half-time with a neat finish, or an attempt to play with wing-backs when Posh have no-one suited to that role until Gwion Edwards returns. Joe Ward struggled throughout his 80 minutes on the pitch on the left hand side.
But Posh won for the first time in six League One matches and that was all that mattered last night and they will now, presumably, be steered by a man who knows how to win promotion from this division.
Three points did seem unlikely after Erhun Oztumer’s quality through ball and Posh goalkeeper Jonathan Bond’s hasty dash from his goalline gave Julien Ngoy the chance to open the scoring for the visitors in the ninth minte. That feeling of frustration, a regular companion at recent Posh matches, only grew when the softest of penalties awarded for a shirt pull on Marriott was wasted by Maddison’s weak penalty two minutes later.
But Posh kept plugging away until Walsall defender Nicky Devlin made a hash of a Maddison through ball enabling Bogle to strike six minutes before the break. The winning goal arrived during a spell of Posh domination early in the second-half when Maddison struck a post following a short corner, Baldwin’s follow-up shot was then flicked into the net by Taylor.
It was far from plain sailing to the end. The failure to grab a third goal and the predictable nervousness of a team in a poor run of form made sure of that, but Taylor, Baldwin and Liam Shephard all made crucial blocks, while Bond did well to tip a strike from Max Kouhyar round a post. Oztumer’s corner was then headed against the bar by Luke Leahy and Walsall substitute Florent Cuvelier missed a sitter at the far post.
Posh also threatened on the counter attack in a crazy, yet most entertaining, finale. Marriott was denied the goal his efforts deserved by a quite brilliant save by Walsall ‘keeper Liam Roberts just before the final whistle.
It was dramatic stuff all watched by the lowest London Road league gate since 1989. The weather had more to do with that than any protest about a managerial switch.
Posh: Jonathan Bond, Liam Shephard, Andrew Hughes, Jack Baldwin, Steven Taylor, Chris Forrester, Michael Doughty, Joe Ward (sub Leo Da Silva Lopes, 81 mins)., Marcus Maddison, Jack Marriott, Omar Bogle (sub Junior Morias, 67 mins).
Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, George Cooper, Jermaine Anderson, Lewis Freestone, Danny Lloyd.
Walsall: Liam Roberts, Nicky Devlin (sub Florent Cuvelier, 8, Jack Fitzwater, Jon Guthrie, Luke Leahy, Adam Chambers, George Dobson, Kieron Morris (sub Amadou Bakayoko, 70 mins), Qamaruddin Kouhyar (sub Justin Shaibu, 78 mins), Erhun Oztumer, Julien Ngoy.
Unused substitutes: Mark Gillespie, Kory Roberts, Liam Kinsella, Reece Flanagan.
Goals: Posh - Bogle (39 mins), Taylor (53 mins).
Walsall - Ngoy (9 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Doughty (foul).
Walsall - Fitzwater (foul), Dobson (simulation), Ngoy (foul).
Referee: Lee Swaby 7
Attendance: 2,531 (81 Walsall).