If Benjamin Franklin was alive today he’d add incompetent Football League officiating to death and taxes as life’s only certainties.
An assistant referee at the Banks’s Stadium looked like he was on a semaphore course such was his flag movement when he hesitated, dithered, and quite possibly panicked, when Peterborough United substitute Junior Morias prodded home a deflected Marcus Maddison cross 10 minutes from the end to complete a dramatic second-half turnaround at Walsall yesterday (September 16).
The flag went up briefly, then went down, and then went up again after a consultation with referee Sebastian Stockbridge who had noted his assistant’s uncertainty. One would love to know how that discussion went because the decision they arrived at looked suspiciously wrong in real time (there was not a single protest by defenders who normally appeal with more vigour than an Aussie slip cordon) and blatantly so once the video evidence had been produced, about 10 seconds after the final whistle in these days of technological wizardry.
Posh boss Grant McCann was predictably fuming in the heat of the moment as his team had done enough in the second-half to warrant victory against a side who placed not losing ahead of winning despite boasting the best win record of any team at home in League One in 2017.
It’s important at this stage though to recognise blunders work both ways. Posh once reached the Championship on the back of a shocking penalty call by a referee who was laughably promoted to the Premier League that very summer - McCann was the man who scored from the spot to keep Posh in their 2011 play-off semi-final against MK Dons.
McCann was also chastising himself at the final whistle, admitting his return to a 3-4-1-2 formation that had served his team well in the opening two away matches of the League One season was a mistake. Switching to 4-4-2 at the break and introducing natural right-back Liam Shephard and a re-invigorated Chris Forrester helped stretch a compact Walsall side desperate to make amends for an awayday battering at Rotherham just a few days earlier.
Erhun Oztumer’s 37th-minute thump at goal, which Posh ‘keeper Jonathan Bond insists he had covered until a deflection off Gwion Edwards sent the ball flying into the roof of the net, had separated two evenly-matches sides at the interval, but McMann’s men were the dominant force after the break and deserved an equaliser converted rather fortuitously by Edwards on the volley after a fine right-wing cross from Forrester.
Posh were rampant in that final 20 minutes, but failed to create a clear-cut opening other than the one ruined by the assistant’s intervention. Numerous crosses and set-pieces rained into the home area, but Walsall’s big defence stood firm with blocks and headers to escape with a point that appeared to satisfy them greatly.
Clearly Posh have restored their reputation as a supreme attacking force at this level. Walsall fielded just one striker throughout the game as stifling Posh and denying them space became a priority from kick-off, although the home side did strike the woodwork twice through Oztumer’s 25 yard screamer in the early stages and a Shaun Donnellan header from a corner on the hour mark.
They were isolated incidents until substitute Zemi Ismail streaked away in added time at the end of the game only to shoot softly enough for Bond to make a comfortable save.
Posh struggled in the first half when the dangerous Edwards was rarely seen in possession in the left wing-back position. Once Jack Marriott had seen two early strikes at goal blocked by a defender and then goalkeeper Mark Gillespie, Posh created little until Steven Taylor and Andrew Hughes nodded Maddison corners over the crossbar.
Marriott’s fierce shot was well-saved by Gillespie after smart work from Ryan Tafazolli as Posh stepped up the pace after the break. The second-half formation suits Posh as Maddison and Edwards are natural wide players with goals and assists in their playbook.
But the wait for a 1,000th Football League win will have to wait until League One title favourites Wigan visit the ABAx Stadium on Saturday (September 23), a few days after the club receive an expected apology from those in charge of recruiting, promoting and appointing match officials.
Posh: Jonathan Bond, Steven Taylor, Ryan Tafazolli, Andrew Hughes, Leo Da Silva Lopes (sub Liam Shephard, 46 mins), Gwion Edwards, Michael Doughty, Anthony Grant (sub Chris Forrester, 46 mins), Marcus Maddison, Ricky Miller (sub Junior Morias, 67 mins), Jack Marriott.
Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Jack Baldwin, Danny Lloyd, Idris Kanu.
Walsall: Mark Gillespie, Joe Edwards, Luke Leahy, Jon Guthrie, Nicky Devlin, Adam Chambers, Flo Cuvelier (sub Kieron Morris, 75 mins), James Wilson, Erhun Oztumer (sub Zeli Ismail, 82 mins), Tyler Roberts (sub Amadou Bakayoko, 69 mins), Shaun Donnellan.
Unused substitutes: Liam Roberts, Simeon Jackson,Kory Roberts, Daniel Agyei.
Goals: Posh - Edwards (72 mins).
Walsall - Oztumer (37 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Grant (foul), Edwards (foul).
Walsall - Chambers (foul).
Referee: Sebastian Stockbridge 7
Attendance: 4,453 (Posh to follow).