These are the games which sort the men out from the boys, the realistic promotion contenders from those heading for mid-table obscurity, or even worse.
A rough old stadium, a terrible playing surface, a paltry crowd generating little atmosphere and weather that would have seen brass monkeys scurrying inside.
That’s what greeted Posh at Spotland yesterday (November 25) and it proved too much for most of them. Some looked like they’d have preferred to be eating marsupial testicles in a jungle or facing Australian pacemen on a bouncy, hard track.
It will soon be time to stop kidding ourselves. Barring a remarkable performance in the January transfer market, this Posh squad lacks the depth and apparently the heart or the ability, to claim a top six place. The gap is six points now between Grant McCann’s men and those jostling for play-off positions, and will only grow if Posh keep failing to beat those struggling for form.
Rochdale started this game in the bottom four, but then so did Gillingham and Oldham when they beat Posh. Yesterday’s hosts didn’t play particularly well, but then they didn’t have to. Organised defence, superior commitment and man marking Marcus Maddison out of the game in the knowledge that attacking inspiration was unlikely to come from any other source, was enough to warrant a comfortable 2-0 win.
McCann must be enduring sleepness nights, and not just because his own future will soon be under Christmas scrutiny as his success in local derbies is being ruined by his record against bad sides. As a stylish, creative, goal-scoring midfielder himself, it must be galling for McCann to watch players in key positions with none of those attributes. McCann wasn’t averse either to the robust challenge which he gets from the admirable Anthony Grant, but not from many others.
McCann employed the midfield diamond formation which served him well in the second half of Tuesday’s (November 21) win over Portsmouth, but it spluttered throughout because completing simple passes and winning any sort of physical contest proved beyond the likes of Michael Doughty and Jermaine Anderson, both of whom were hooked at half-time along with Danny Lloyd.
Passes from the back were usually intercepted with ease by three central defenders or woefully overhit. When Posh did break with space in front of them, they relinquished possession with terrible final balls. One superb run down the right wing by Leo Da Silva Lopes in the early stages, which included a terrific nutmeg, was wasted by a horribly skewed cross when under no pressure whatsoever. Da Silva Lopes did improve after the break when encouraged to take up more attacking position and played with an energy few team-mates mustered, setting up substitute Ricky Miller for the best opportunity of the second half, one the striker struck straight at ‘keeper Josh Lillis.
Posh should probably have had a first-half penalty for a foul on Maddison by his eager shadow Oliver Rathbone when the score was goalless and McCann was correct to suggest the game would probably have panned out differently. But it also shouldn’t be used in any way to camouflage a most dispiriting display.
Even the considerable boost of the home side’s in-form striker Matty Done limping off after just seven minutes failed to ignite Posh. Dale were left with Calvin Andrew and Jordan Slew up front, a cumbersome pairing with no League One goals between them all season.
Well none until Joe Rafferty’s right wing cross on 34 minutes was allowed to reach Andrew eight yards from goal. He turned Steven Taylor rather too easily before firing past Conor O’Malley.
O’Malley had no chance with that one, but he made a right hash of Callum Camps’ well struck free kick from 20 yards four minutes later as the ball smashed through cold hands and into the net.
And that was pretty much that. Posh huffed and puffed more strongly once the game was lost, but Lillis had such a comfortable 90 minutes, McCann promised many fresh legs for the trip to Charlton on Tuesday (November). Gwion Edwards will be back which is a big bonus at least.
And as Charlton are a top six side playing in a cracking stadium on a lovely pitch Posh will probably perform much better, particularly if the weather is better.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Jack Baldwin, Steven Taylor, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Andrew Hughes, Anthony Grant, Michael Doughty (sub Chris Forrester, 46 mins), Jermaine Anderson (Sub ricky Miller, 46 mins), Marcus Maddison, Danny Lloyd (sub Idris Kanu, 46 mins), Jack Marriott.
Unused substitutes: Jonathan Bond, Callum Chettle, Alex Penny, Ryan Tafazolli.
Rochdale: Josh Lillis, Joe Rafferty, Jimmy McNulty, Harrison McGahey, Donervon Daniels, Callum Camps, Ollie Rathborne, Calvin Andrew, Ian Henderson, Matty Done (sub Jordan Slew, 7 mins, sub Matty Gillam, 60 mins), Joe Bunney (sub Kgosi Ntlhe, 74 mins).
Unused substitutes: Brendan Moore, Steven Davies, Andy Cannon, Mark Kitching.
Goals: Rochdale - Andrew (34 mins), Camps (37 mins).
Cautions: Rochdale - Slew (foul), McNulty (foul).
Referee: Martin Coy 5
Attendance: 2,555 (approx 450 Posh).