There was a mugging in broad daylight in Bristol yesterday (October 29), but no-one called the police.
It was an open and shut case to be fair. The perpetrators were wearing high-vis shirts and didn’t try and hide their glee at pulling off a successful smash-and-grab-raid, led by the ‘criminal’ mastermind, identified as one Grant McCann, who channelled his inner Barry Fry by sprinting down the Memorial Stadium touchline in celebration at a 92nd-minute winning goal from Peterborough United striker Tom Nichols.
That it came completely against the run of play is as indisputable as McCann’s passion for Posh. Bristol Rovers had opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 57th-minute and battered the visiting defences for the final half an hour after Shaquile Coulthirst’s equaliser four minutes later.
This was a victory for Posh guts and determination rather than the smooth, silky passing routines they set out to employ and it is no less a success for that, especially from a team who have been accused of possessing a soft underbelly on more than one occasion this season.
Rovers are red hot at their rickety old rugby union stadium. It was one defeat in 21 outings before Nichols pounced to tap home from close range following excellent work from substitute Gwion Edwards. The much-maligned strikers have now both scored in two of the last three matches, provoked perhaps by the imminent return of Lee Angol, a young centre-forward who appears to have turned into Pele during his lengthy injury absence.
But, although Nichols’ dramatic intervention will dominate headlines today (October 30), the real stars of this Posh show were those charged with protecting their goal.
Central defenders Jack Baldwin and Ryan Tafazolli were outstanding as was Michael Bostwick in front of them, while goalkeeper Luke McGee continues to prove that Ben Alnwick’s sudden desire to be a number two elsewhere in League One, was a stroke of good fortune for the club.
McGee was never forced into desperate action because Baldwin and co blocked a lot of goal-bound strikes, made numerous well-timed, last-ditch tackles, and won a plethora of key aerial duesl, but he saved well with his feet from Chris Lines in the first-half - captain Chris Forrester stepped into the way of Matty Taylor’s follow-up strike - and pushed substitute Elliott Harrison’s curler wide 10 minutes from time.
Baldwin’s superb tackle on top-scorer Taylor in the final minute helped turn a likely defeat into a most unlikely win.
Even Rovers’ impressive young manager Darrell Clarke was persuaded to praise Posh, while bemoaning his own team’s misfortune. “We had a ridiculous amount of attempts at their goal and we have played a lot worse this season and won,” Clarke stated. “But we must give Peterborough credit for the way they defended and the way they kept going.”
McCann was moved to praise his side’s character which was fair enough as most of his side’s passing and decision-making when going forward was poor. Even mercurial Marcus Maddison struggled to find the wavelength occupied by Coulthirst and Nichols which is a concern going forward given how often they’ve now played with each other.
Forrester’s normally reliable passing radar was also adrift, while teenager Leo Da Silva Lopes looked drained of energy well before his inevitable substitution in favour of Edwards for the final 15 minutes.
Rovers had taken the surprising option of matching Posh’s midfield diamond rather than copying the majority of League One and working on ways to ouflank it, but they created and missed enough chances to claim it was a decent tactic. Right-back Daniel Leadbitter and midfielder Stuart Sinclair shot over the bar when well-placed in the first-half, while Harrison headed an injury time corner over the bar after out-jumping Andrew Hughes with ease.
Given their domination, and Rovers found it easy to get behind the left side of the Posh defence, it was a surprise the home side needed a penalty to take the lead. Coulthirst’s willingness to track Leadbitter into the Posh penalty area back-fired when he tripped him from behind enabling Taylor to convert his 11th-goal of the campaign.
But Coulthirst made amends quickly, with more than a helping hand from fumbling Rovers’ goalkeeper Kelle Roos who somehow dropped a routine cross from Maddison at the feet of former Rover Michael Smith. Just why right-back Smith was the most advanced Posh player baffled even McCann, but his shot was blocked by a defender straight to Coulthirst who prodded home.
It was a key moment for a side submerged by criticism from all quarters the previous weekend. It gave them something to hang on to before sneaking away to pinch a winning goal.
It was also an important win as top two Scunthorpe and Bolton are among the next three League One opponents when Posh will need to play so much better - they can start by selecting Edwards from the start - than they managed here.
Posh: Luke McGee, Michael Smith, Andrew Hughes, Ryan Tafazolli, Jack Baldwin, Michael Bostwick, Chris Forrester, Leo Da Silva Lopes (sub Gwion Edwards, 75 mins), Marcus Maddison, Tom Nichols, Shaquile Coulthirst (sub Paul Taylor, 75 mins). Unused substitutes: George Moncur, Jerome Binnom-Williams, Callum Chettle, Ricardo Santos, Mark Tyler.
Rovers: Kelle Roos, Daniel Leadbitter, Lee Brown, Tom Lockyer, Ollie Clarke (sub Jermaine Easter, 70 mins), Jake Clarke-Salter, Stuart Sinclair, Charlie Colkett, Chris LInes, Rory Gaffney (sub Ellis Harrison, 70 mins), Matty Taylor. Unused substitutes: Byron Moore, Peter Hartley, Christian Montano, Connor Roberts, Steve Mildenhall.
Goals: Posh - Coulthirst (61 mins), Nichols (90 + 2 mins).
Rovers (Taylor, pen, 57 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Coulthirst (foul), Bostwick (foul).
Referee: Mark Hayward 5.
Attendance: 9,839 (447 Posh).