This was a tough match to sum up.
On the surface a 1-1 draw away from home against a side unbeaten on their own patch after three successive League One defeats seems a decent result, especially after falling behind in rather comical circumstances early in the game.
But scratch beneath the veneer and this was a missed opportunity to scramble back into the top six. Southend have an unavailability list longer than Jo Brand’s food shopping list. They fielded a makeshift defence last night (October 17) which included two midfielders and it often showed as Posh created enough decent scoring chances to make home goalkeeper Mark Oxley a comfortable winner of the man-of-the-match award.
Posh were lacklustre before the break before playing a full part in an entertaining, end-to-end second period. Finding their form earlier in the contest might just have delivered the victory to re-establish fading promotion credentials. With a 12-point gap to the top two those ambitions might already be restricted to a play-off push with over two-thirds of the League One season still to go.
Still a small mercy was gratefully accepted by manager Grant McCann and his players. Even chairman Darragh MacAnthony tweeted praise for his players on his long drive home. The main men both used the word ‘proud’ to laud the men on the field.
Southend boss Phil Brown, who reckoned the nature of the second-half was bad for his hair and his heart (his tan remains immaculate though), insisted the draw was a fair result and he was probably right. The territorial and possession statistics would suggest Posh didn’t deserve to win, but they probably should have claimed the three points based on clear chances created.
Midfielder Anthony Grant somehow fluffed an easy opportunity to set up a tap in for Jack Marriott in the opening stages before Oxley took centre stage with two terrific saves to thwart Marcus Maddison and another late on to keep out a header from substitute Callum Chettle. Posh enjoyed this second-half spell of domination after Marriott had improved his own impressive personal numbers.
It’s now 10 goals in just 13 League One matches - he’s joint top scorer in the division again alongside Kieffer Moore of Rotherham - for the man signed from the Luton substitutes’ bench in the summer. Six of those goals have arrived in six away matches and he’s also been credited with two assists. If ever a transfer deal suited two clubs it’s the one that took Marriott away from Kenilworth Road where the Hatters have been slamming in high-scoring League Two performances all season.
Marriott found the net 10 minutes into the second-half following a cross from the irrepressible Gwion Edwards which was flicked on by Maddidon and deflected into his path by Andrew Hughes. It’s amazing the good things that can happen when several bodies arrive in the penalty area at the same time, something lacking in Saturday’s (October 14) gruesome defeat at the hands of Gillingham.
Marriott also missed the target when well placed with a header from a Maddison cross. The pair were fielded together up front in a partnership which grew stronger as the game wore on. Poor passing stopped them showing off clear advantages in both pace and skill before the break.
Posh reverted to a 3-5-2 system at Roots Hall with Edwards deployed as a left wing back and Jermaine Anderson and Leo Da Silva adding youth to a midfield that has lacked speed and stamina in recent weeks.
Those carefully constructed plans were ruined by human error in the 10th minute when captain Jack Baldwin’s attempted pass out of defence was intercepted by Marc-Antoine Fortune who promptly bagged his first goal of the season. A minute earlier Baldwin’s backpass had been intercepted by Dru Yearwood who failed to punish properly and midway through the half a perfect shot at redemption for the skipper was ruined when he headed Maddison’s superb free kick over the bar when unattended six yards from goal.
Misfortune, and that’s a very kind word to describe some of his calamities, has dogged Baldwin for a lot of this season, although he was pretty faultless after the break, especially in a frantic finale which featured some strong pressure from the home side once they introduced powerful forward Nile Ranger from the substitutes’ bench and Posh had switched to 4-4-2.
As one Twitter wag suggested beforehand, it made a change for the troubled Ranger to be on the bench rather than appearing in front of it.
The jury is still out on Posh promotion hopes, but eight draws from 12 League One matches last night confirmed how tight and competitive the division remains.
The play-off places are open to all. Posh chances will increase if Da Silva Lopes can maintain the form he displayed last night, in front of numerous scouts including one from Arsenal according to someone who should know.
Posh: Jonathan Bond, Jack Baldwin, Steven Taylor, Ryan Tafazolli, Andrew Hughes, Anthony Grant, Jermaine Anderson (sub Callum Chettle, 77 mins), Leo Da Silva Lopes, Gwion Edwards, Marcus Maddison, Jack Marriott.
Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Liam Shephard, Chris Forrester, Ricky Miller, Idris Kanu, Danny Lloyd.
Southend: Mark Oxley, Jason Demetriou, John White, Ryan Leonard, Michael Timlin, Josh Wright, Dru Yearwood, Anthony Wordsworth, Stephen McLaughlin (sub Theo Robinson, 68 mins), Simon Cox, Marc-Antoine Fortune (sub Nile Ranger, 68 mins).
Unused substitutes: Nathan Bishop, Stephen Hendrie, Michael Klass, Elvis Bwomono, Amadou Ba.
Goals: Posh - Marriott (55 mins).
Southend - Fortune (10 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Baldwin (foul), Da Silva Lopes (foul).
Southend - Demetriou (foul), Yearwood (foul), Cox (foul).
Referee: Kevin Johnson 7
Attendance: 5,789 (228 Posh).