Grant McCann reckons Peterborough United were a decent haircut away from claiming a wonderful win in Wigan, which is a subtler, kinder way of discussing League One officials than one of his predecessors Darren Ferguson managed yesterday (January 13).
Ferguson offered an extreme solution (‘shoot them’) to a problem worthy of debate. Indeed McCann has a folder of pointless apologies from those who manage the ‘unfit, disgusting’ (Ferguson’s words again) of officials who often ‘stink out’ (my words) the lower divisions.
The flowing locks of Jack Marriott cost Posh two points at the DW Stadium yesterday, according to his boss. Marriott pounced to convert an 89th minute rebound after home goalkeeper Christian Walton had parried a 25-yard strike from debutant substitute Joe Ward into his path. To be fair assistant referee Helen Byrne raised her flag before the ball entered the back of the net and TV replays and photographic stills didn’t find any proof she was wrong, although her apparent assertion in the tunnel post-game that Marriott was ‘a yard offside’ was an over-confident one.
“I said to her after the game I hoped she was right,” stated McCann. “It was an extremely tight call. If Jack was offside it must have been because he needed a haircut. It was that close.”
Naturally if Byrne did make a brilliant call she won’t be feted in any press or dressing room. In any case Posh, while leaving the home of the League One leaders with an excellent point, didn’t do enough to win a game that rarely looked like delivering a goal, a huge shock given the build up at two clubs who indulged in some mutual back-slapping both before and after the contest.
“I can’t see it finishing 0-0,” was one of Wigan manager Paul Cook’s pre-match soundbites. “It was a good tactical battle between two good sides who play the right way,” was one of Cook’s comments after the match. ‘Tactical battle’ is often used by managers to describe teams cancelling each other out at the expense of entertainment levels.
“I enjoyed watching the match,” added McCann who was comfortably in the minority. An eagerly-anticipated match-up was watched in near silence by a crowd dotted around this splendid stadium. It’s three 0-0 DW draws in a row for Wigan and that fact was enough for some fans to complain about Cook’s tactics despite a three-point lead at the top, a five-point gap to third and seven clean sheets in succession. This management lark is a tough gig.
Even mild-mannered McCann managed a post-match grumble at his side ‘not getting the credit they deserve’ and they certainly merited praise for digging in and thwarting such a strong home squad (Wigan had seven substitutes who would walk into most League One starting line-ups) at the end of a gruelling, punishing schedule.
Indeed with better decision-making and sharper, brighter football when in possession in the home half, Posh could well have snatched all three points. The advanced midfield position occupied by Michael Doughty and substitute Junior Morias yesterday is a key one in a formation with enormous potential, especially when Marcus Maddison is failing to work his magic. Posh often find that man in space, but the instant accuracy that would set three lively attackers free is rarely found. Lee Tomlin is available on loan for around 8K a week, according to ‘friends’.
As it was Posh, once Maddison had muffed a very difficult acrobatic volley from 12 yards in the first-half, were restricted to shots from outside the box. The desire to attack was there, but the quality was lacking. Marriott’s low drive was the best goal-attempt until Ward’s late effort, but the giant frame of Walton, who hasn’t conceded a League One goal since August, was supple enough to save.
Wigan planned for Posh’s counter-attacking tactics by dropping their defenders deep whenever possession was lost, thus negating regular first-half attempts to get Marriott in behind a physically superior back four. Posh were more creative after the break, but killer passes were absent.
Wigan had the better chances, but they were also rare as Posh, led superbly by centre-backs Steven Taylor and Ryan Tafazolli, with great support from Anthony Grant, defended with skill and dedication.
Right-back Liam Shephard made a fine early block to keep out Sam Morsy’s strike and unattended Wigan substitute Ryan Colclough missed the ball completely when the battling instincts of another of those top replacements, James Vaughan, had helped create the best opportunity of the match 20 minutes from time.
Posh ‘keeper Jonathan Bond was so well protected he made just two stops of note, from a Michael Jacobs cracker from 20 yards and from Gavin Massey from much closer in, but from a tricky angle, soon into the second half.
Wigan suffered from a build-up that was usually far too slow, unless Jacobs was flying down the wing, and from an anonymous display by sole striker Will Grigg. Top scorer Nick Powell, a class act, was kept away from dangerous areas, often by Grant’s tenacity.
Posh can be proud of taking four points from the best side in the division this season, but then raising their game for the best hasn’t been a problem this season.
Out-of-form Oldham at home next Saturday (January 20) will present difficulties Posh have often struggled to overcome. That needs to change to turn a promising position just three points and three places outside the top six into a successful campaign, one involving post-regular season action.
Even that might depend on transfer activity in and out of the ABAX in the next fortnight or so, a time when managerial anxiety levels will reach new peaks and League One officials might need even stronger earplugs.
Posh: Jonathan Bond, Liam Shephard, Andrew Hughes, Steven Taylor, Ryan Tafazolli, Anthony Grant, Chris Forrester, Michael Doughty (sub Joe Ward, 68 mins), Marcus Maddison, Danny Lloyd (sub Junior Morias, 68 mins), Jack Marriott.
Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Jack Baldwin, Jermaine Anderson, Idris Kanu, Alex Penny.
Wigan: Christian Walton, Nathan Byrne, Dan Burn, Chey Dunkley, Reece James, Sam Morsy, Michael Jacobs (sub Callum Elder, 86 mins), Max Power, Gavin Massey (sub Ryan Colclough, 63 mins), Nick Powell, Will Grigg (sub James Vaughan, 63 mins).
Unused substitutes: Jamie Jones, David Perkins,A lex Bruce, Gary Roberts.
Cautions: Posh - Forrester (persistent infrigements), Lloyd (foul).
Referee: Eddie Ilderton 8
Attendance: 8,602 (399 Posh).