It would of course be easy to chuck hapless referee Ben Toner under the bus to explain away this rather disappointing FA Cup result.
But his obvious dithering incompetence wasn’t solely to blame as Posh threw away a two-goal lead against a completely out-of-form Notts County team at Meadow Lane. Indeed, for once, the biggest embarrasments in Nottingham weren’t on show in Hooters.
Posh striker Lee Angol delivered the game-defining boob by shoving home irritant Matt Tootle to the floor just before half-time giving Toner the opportunity to brandish an irrevocable red card. Tootle’s theatrics were an unnecessary and unseemly sideshow after Angol took exception to being held and tugged without protection.
Coming as it did just two minutes after County had eaten into an early two-goal Posh advantage it gave the home side the impetus to completely dominate the second period when only stout defending, a lack of creative thinking and the woodwork kept them out until one last corner fell kindly at the feet of Louis Laing. His shot wasn’t particularly well struck, but it still crept into the corner of Luke McGee’s net after taking a slight detour en route.
That was galling enough for a Posh side who had repelled cross after cross into the penalty area, but incredibly, worse was to follow. A rare free kick enabled Posh to make a rare second-half foray into the County penalty area when a cross from Andrew Hughes was so blatantly intercepted by Laing’s hand, it was a quite a surprise the referee didn’t award a knock on and a scrum down.
It left Posh and their superb travelling fans to vent their frustrations on Toner, but if County had been left out of the hat for the third round draw it would have been a great injustice.
Posh ripped their struggling hosts apart for the opening half an hour. Leo Da Silva Lopes celebrated his recent 18th birthday by shooting home splendidly from 25 yards in the third minute before Gwion Edwards finished off some cracking approach play by Paul Taylor on 15 minutes.
The speed and intelligence of Posh’s attacking play looked certain to lead to further goals - Da Silva Lopes and Taylor came close to scoring a third goal - but it possibly became too easy. Sloppy and casual took over from pace and destruction and County, who tweaked their own system following a dismal start, started to play with considerable spirit, a fact that led to Adam Campbell’s fine finish from the edge of the penalty area in the 43rd minute. The same player had missed an open goal in between the two Posh goals when a free kick arrived at his feet at the far post.
Angol and Taylor had been selected up front in place of Shaquile Coulthirst and Tom Nichols, but any relief and delight felt by Angol evaporated, along with manager Grant McCann’s patience, when he attracted his red card.
County may well have gone on to score a second goal against 11 men such was their own determination and so soft was a Posh midfield badly missing the defensive influence of Michael Bostwick.
But playing 11 v 11 would undoubtedly have led to further Posh scoring opportunities. Instead McCann’s men were rendered impotent by Angol’s indiscretion. Taylor and Maddison became luxuries Posh couldn’t afford in the heat of battle and both were eventually withdrawn, but the pattern of the second half had already been set.
It was basically attack v defence. Jonathan Forte and Vadine Oliver missed near-post chances, McGee saved well from Michael O’Connor and Campbell and when
a poke at goal from 12 yards by substitute Aaron Collins smacked into the Posh crossbar it looked like valiant defence was going to bale out a disturbing inability to keep possession to help relieve mounting pressure.
Bostwick was immense at centre-back when the second-half siege was at it’s most persistent, while Ryan Tafazolli, Hughes and Michael Smith weren’t far behind.
But one poorly-defender corner gave County a lifeline.
It’s still advantage Posh though. A different venue and a different referee will suit them.
Posh: Luke McGee, Michael Smith, Andrew Hughes, Michael Bostwick, Ryan Tafazolli, Chris Forrester, Gwion Edwards, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Marcus Maddison (sub Shaquile Coulthirst, 58 mins), Lee Angol, Paul Taylor (sub Tom Nichols, 58 mins), Unused substitutes: Brad Inman, Nathan Oduwa, Ricardo Santos, Jerome Binnom-Williams, Mark Tyler.
Notts County: Adam Collin, Matt Tootle, Carl Dickenson, Richard Duffy, Louis Laing, Michael O’Connor, Graham Burke (sub Jon Stead, 72 mins), Rob Millsom. Vadaine Oliver (sub Aaron Collins, 77 mins), Jonathan Forte, Adam Campbell. Unused substitutes: Alan Smith, Scott Loach, Elliott Hewitt, Haydn Hollis, Genaro Snijders.
Goals: Posh - Da Silva Lopes (3 mins), Edwards (15 mins),
County - Campbell (43 mins), Laing (90 + 2 mins).
Sending-off: Posh - Angol (violent conduct).
Cautions: Posh - McGee (time-wasting).
County - O’Connor (foul), Oliver (unsportsmanlike conduct), Duffy (foul), Campbell (foul),
Referee: Ben Toner 4
Attendance: 3,940 (1,690 Posh).