No wonder Steve Evans has placed Jack Marriott on a pedestal. Twice in the new manager’s brief tenure this 30-goal striker has rescued dire second-half Peterborough United performances with last-gasp goals.
Earlier this month Marriott pounced in the 91st-minute at rock-bottom Bury to steal three points from Gigg Lane and he struck even later yesterday (March 30), waiting until the 98th-minute to salvage a most undeserved point at Rotherham United.
“He’s the best I’ve ever worked with,” Evans announced in the excitement of his post-match press conference, one staged about 15 minutes after a physique-defying sprint on to the Rotherham pitch in celebration of Marriott’s rescue act.
“He could land himself a huge club in the summer,” the manager added before realising he’d strayed into Barry Fry’s territory. “Unless of course the chairman does what he often does and keeps his best players at Posh.”
Marriott’s worth to the current Posh squad is priceless. No matter how poor a performance if the team can stay in touch, they have a man on the pitch who can turn a game in an instant. It’s a point Rotherham’s players should have factored into a weird decision to sit back for the final 10 minutes of a second half they had ruthlessly dominated. That 10 minutes turned into 20 thanks to the generosity of referee Scott Oldham’s time-keeping and home players sinking to the turf at the final whistle as their visitors celebrated an unlikely point in front of 1,200 noisy travelling fans told its own story.
The point dropped Posh out of the play-off places, but, if they can ditch their season-long habit of boosting teams completely out of form, they could well get back there on Monday (April 2) when the hapless Cobblers are in town.
Staying there, as Evans readily admitted, will be impossible if they play like they did at the impressive New York Stadium. Posh defended with great spirit and rookie goalkeeper Conor O’Malley was excellent, but going forward it was very much a one-man show for the most part. Remember when KFC ran out of chicken recently? Posh playing without Marriott would cause a similar panic.
Evans picked a team which looked set to play a fine passing game. Marriott was deployed on his own up top, but with a three-man support act of Marcus Maddison, Danny Lloyd and George Cooper, who played centrally in just his second start for the club. With Chris Forrester just behind them, the ball looked set to be transferred between lines, but the reality was rather different, not by design according to chairman Darragh MacAnthony.
Far too often the ball was lumped long in the hope that Marriott’s pace would take him beyond the home back four. Instead two deep-lying centre-backs gobbled everything up, while the supposed second wave of Posh attackers were way off the pace.
Posh still managed to threaten in the first-half, but only when the ball did move through Cooper and Maddison. The pair combined beautifully to create Marriott’s first-half opportunity that was blocked by Rotherham ‘keeper Marek Rodak and Cooper’s simple, yet effective, pass to Lloyd deserved a better fate than a piece of miscontrol that led to a corner.
Marriott could well have been awarded a penalty after a clumsy challenge by home centre-back Semi Ajayi, but Posh disappeared as an attacking force until the final stages when they were galvanised by a board showing six minutes minimum of added time. Marriott who had tested Radak with a superb 25-yard strike 10 minutes from time, got his eye in with a volley from a corner that fizzed past a post before turning home a cross from Junior Morias from close range - after eight of those six minutes had been played.
It was a steal. Rotherham boasted the second-best home record in League One before this game and could easily have been clear before Marriott’s intervention. As it was substitute Caolan Lavery’s first goal for the club on 69 minutes following a free kick from a wide position should still have been enough. Lavery had missed a sitter a few minutes earlier after one of many surging runs from former Posh youngster Joe Newell.
Soon after the goal O’Malley did well to tip a Michael Smith header over the bar. O’Malley had spread himself superbly to thwart Anthony Forde’s clear run at goal in the seventh minute, but he was generally well-protected by an overworked Posh back four in which Steven Taylor and Ryan Tafazolli, pretty much playing on one leg, were outstanding as Rotherham’s energy and tempo kept them penned in for most of the second period.
Posh have only played at this stadium twice and twice they have burgled a result. Evans was the manager of Rotherham on the previous occasion and was furious when meeting the media after that game. He was a lot happier this time around as he is convinced victory against Cobblers will now return his side to the top six.
Posh could have finished the first batch of Easter fixtures anywhere between fifth and ninth, but they will settle for seventh, two points adrift of sixth.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Liam Shephard, Andrew Hughes, Ryan Tafazolli (sub Lewis Freestone, 72 mins), Steven Taylor, Anthony Grant, Chris Forrester, George Cooper (sub Junior Morias, 50 mins), Marcus Maddison, Danny Lloyd (sub Joe Ward, 56 mins), Jack Marriott.
Unused substitutes: Jonathan Bond, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Jermaine Anderson, Michael Doughty.
Rotherham: Marek Rodak, Josh Emmanuel, Joe Mattock (sub, Michael Ihiekwe, 83 mins), Semi Ajayi, Will Vaulks, Anthony Forde, Matt Palmer, Joe Newell, Ritchie Towell (sub Ryan Williams, 90 mins), Michael Smith, David Ball (sub, Caloan Levery, 60 mins).
Unused substitutes: Lewis Price, Richard Wood, Jon Taylor, Jerry Yates.
Goals: Posh - Marriott (90 + 8 mins).
Rotherham - Lavery (69 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Tafazolli (foul), Maddison (dissent).
Rotherham - Smith (timewasting).
Referee: Scott Oldham 7
Attendance: 9,573 (1,240 Posh).