Grant McCann could have been forgiven for fearing the worst last night (November 15)
His Peterborough United side approached this banana skin of an FA Cup replay against in-form opponents in skittish form and without Gwion Edwards, one third of the team’s attacking talent according to the naysayers.
And not only that McCann had been re-christened Shaun by the Tranmere match programme. A multi-promotion winning playing career and a decent start as a young manager had apparently escaped the notice of those on Merseyside.
But a bigger mystery than a lack of editorial fact checking was just why Posh were visiting Prenton Park at all last night. These two sides had drawn 1-1 10 days earlier when it was difficult to pick out the non league team. That wasn’t a problem this time around as the gulf in quality was huge as Posh angered only those (live TV cameras included) who had pitched up hoping for another shock for a League One club by romping to their traditional FA Cup win over these opponents.
Seven times the teams have been paired in this competition and Posh have progressed on each occasion. The last two decisive matches have finished 5-0 with a Posh player departing with the match ball.
It was Britt Assombalonga in 2013, while Danny Lloyd raced after it on the final whistle last night. Luckily the ball was in Marcus Maddison’s possession at the time so a safe transfer was guaranteed and a player whose mum lives three minutes from Prenton Park, and who had requested 30 complimentary match tickets for family and friends, could start working on which mantelpiece he’d mount it.
It was Lloyd’s show live on television for a 10-minute spell in the first half when he scored either side of missing a sitter, and so annoyed the home fans with his celebration, he was caught by a water bottle thrown from the crowd.
Lloyd completed his hat-trick during a three-goal blitz in seven second-half minutes which also featured two assists and a goal from the penalty spot for Maddison. Jack Baldwin converted one of Maddison’s special free kicks to start the game-clinching run midway through the half.
Posh should have won by more. Jack Marriott spurned a hat-trick of opportunities and substitute Idris Kanu failed to claim his first goal for the club after Baldwin had played him through.
It helped that Tranmere imploded. After an even quarter of an hour, a shocking backpass from Jay McEveley enabled Lloyd to open the scoring and at 2-0 in the 26th minute Jay Harris was despatched instantly by referee Michael Salisbury for a horror tackle on Maddison. Tranmere tried to stay positive, but after a brief flurry of pressure in the second-half, they started to look like a ponderous outfit with too many heavyweight defenders and in truth a 5-0 beating could have been much worse.
McCann, who re-introduced the midfield diamond for a bit last night, was right afterwards to praise his side’s professionalism, but they can and will play better than this and not win so handsomely, certainly against League One opponents.
But Lloyd, who needs to take more care of the ball in possession, has pepped up an attack that was relying too heavily on Marriott for goals, while Maddison’s class was again obvious and this time he delivered it without petulance or play acting.
Goalkeeper Conor O’Malley looks a real find. He was redundant for a lot of this match, but good ‘keepers concentrate well when they’re not busy and O’Malley saved well from Ollie Norburn’s 20 yard snapshot and saved the day at Andy Cook’s feet after a weak Baldwin back header.
And don’t under-estimate the role of midfielder Anthony Grant. He passed 30 in the summer yet plays with the enthusiasm and endeavour of someone just starting out in the game. He covered most blades of grass at Prenton Park.
Chris Forrester came on for his 100th Posh appearance. To make many more he must win the battle to play alongside Grant as he won’t be replacing him any time soon.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Jack Baldwin, Andrew Hughes, Ryan Tafazolli (sub Chris Forrester, 77 mins), Steven Taylor, Anthony Grant, Michael Doughty (sub Jermaine Anderson, 68 mins), Leo Da Silva Lopes, Marcus Maddison, Danny Lloyd, Jack Marriott (sub Idris Kanu, 68 mins).
Unused substitutes: Jonathan Bond, Alex Penny, Callum Chettle, Sam Cartwright.
Tranmere: Scott Davies, Liam Ridehalgh, Ritchie Sutton, Stephen McNulty, Jay McEveley (sub Adam Buxton, 46 mins), Jay Harris, James Norwood, Connor Jennings, Ollie Norburn (sub Larbell Cole, 73 mins), Dylan Motley-Henry, Gerry McDonagh (sub Andy Cook, 67 mins).
Unused substitutes: Luke Pilling, Elliot Rokka, Declan Drysdale, Josh Solomon-Davies.
Goals: Posh - Lloyd (16 mins, 22 mins & 74 mins), Baldwin (68 mins), Maddison (pen, 75 mins).
Sending off: Tranmere - Harris (serious foul play).
Cautions: Posh - Doughty (foul).
Tranmere - Jennings (foul).
Referee: Michael Salisbury 8.
Attendance: 4,199 (124 Posh).