MATCH REPORT: Oxford 2-1 Posh: Peterborough United pay the penalty for poor decision making

Tom Nichols of Peterborough United celebrates after scoring to make it 1-1. Picture: Joe Dent
Tom Nichols of Peterborough United celebrates after scoring to make it 1-1. Picture: Joe Dent
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Talk is cheap in life, but more so in football where every half-decent strike is labelled ‘stunning’, players are labelled ‘useless’ after a poor performance and any 15-year-old Brazilian who scores a two-yard tap in is immediately labelled the new Pele.

In fact, it surely can’t be long until Sunderland-Middlesbrough and West Ham-Bournemouth is part of Sky’s Super Dooper Sunday with Jamie Carragher offering analysis while being bench-pressed by Adebayo Akinfenwa and Gary Neville wrestling a bear while wondering whether Alberto Moreno is being controlled by a 10-year-old on the Wii.

So it would have been easy to scoff when Tom Nichols said he could score 20 goals this season and emulate the likes of Britt Assombalonga.

This was a striker who scored on his debut last season but looked a bit lightweight and struggled in a team which plummeted after losing on penalties to West Brom.

But on a weekend which saw Assombalonga and another ex-Posh super striker Dwight Gayle hit the back of the net (and Nicky Ajose twice), it was no surprise to see Nichols bag his fourth goal of the season. He is already a fifth of the way there.

His goal in the 2-1 defeat to Oxford yesterday (Saturday, August 20) was evidence of a striker full of confidence and composure.

Paul Taylor did the hard part, finding space down the right-hand side of the area. He then passed the ball backwards to Nichols who sold his marker and the goalkeeper Simon Eastwood a dummy by shimmying to his right before finding the roof of the net.

It was the reward for a rare bit of calm thinking in the Oxford half where too often the final pass never reached the right man.

No wonder Grant McCann was so frustrated by the end. The Posh manager must have seen an Oxford defence which had two new full-backs and a left-back playing as a centre-half and wondered how many goals his unchanged team could score after putting five past Millwall on Tuesday.

Instead, it was his own defence which failed its test. Half-way through four minutes of stoppage time, Ryan Taylor flicked the ball over the defence and through to Chris Maguire who was bundled over inside the area by Jack Baldwin.

The defender was shown a second yellow card, and the forward got up to place the spot-kick out of the reach of Ben Alnwick diving to his left.

Alnwick had attempted his own mind games with the penalty taker, pointing to his right as if that was the way he was going to dive.

And Maguire responded by mimicking Alnwick straight after scoring the winner by pointing in the same direction as the goalkeeper then pulling off a dive.

It capped off an exciting second-half where both sides must have felt they could have grabbed the winner.

Wes Thomas had given the hosts the lead approximately 14 seconds into the half, taking advantage of the Posh midfield which had pressed forward by hitting a shot which deflected off the diving Michael Bostwick to leave Alnwick stranded.

Posh looked rattled but regrouped and should have levelled when the excellent Gwion Edwards played the ball to Jermaine Anderson whose close-range effort was saved by Eastwood.

Nichols then equalised on the hour mark to set up a frantic finale to the match.

Cheyenne Dunkley appeared to have headed the home side back in the lead, but the effort was blocked and, after a scramble, a foul was given against Oxford.

At the other end Anderson crossed and Josh Ruffels miscued the ball towards his own goal, but Eastwood did brilliantly to claw the ball back.

McCann thought the ball had gone over the line but wanted another look.

And to sum up a match of poor decision making, Posh twice squandered good chances to take the points when substitute Adil Nabi turned into a defender when he should have shot, while Edwards wildly fired a cross over with Nabi in space.

Alnwick, too, spilled a shot into his own area which fortunately did not lead to a goal.

Maguire’s late strike compounded the frustration for McCann. He might have thought his side deserved a penalty in the first-half, first when Edwards was hauled down by Dunkley right on the edge of the area - with the referee Seb Stockbridge instead deciding on a free-kick - and when Chris Forrester chested a ball down inside the area before falling over next to a defender.

Stockbridge, who was constantly baited by the home fans, even when he gave blatantly obvious free-kicks, drew out a yellow card for the fifth time in a half which had not been played in a bad spirit and booked the Posh captain for diving.

Forrester had looked in top form in the first-half and he will be needed to lead from the front with a Tuesday EFL cup tie at home to Premier League Swansea and a trip to rivals MK Dons all to come next week.

What McCann will want more than most is some ‘clinicality’ - a phrase beloved by his predecessor, a man who could also talk the talk but found it harder to back it up where it mattered.

Posh: (4-2-3-1): Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith, Jack Baldwin, Michael Bostwick, Andrew Hughes, Chris Forrester (sub Leo Da Silva Lopex, 62 minutes), Jermaine Anderson, Marcus Maddison (sub Adil Nabi, 73 minutes), Paul Taylor (sub Shaquile Coulthirst, 78 minutes), Gwion Edwards, Tom Nichols.

Unused substitutes: Mark Tyler, Ricardo Almeida Santos, Hayden White, Joe Gormley.

Oxford: (4-4-2): Simon Eastwood, Phil Edwards, Cheyenne Dunkley, Joe Skarz, Josh Ruffels, Alex MacDonald (sub Tyler Roberts, 68 minutes), Liam Sercombe, John Lundstram, Chris Maguire, Wes Thomas (sub Dan Crowley, 81 minutes), Kane Hemmings (sub Ryan Taylor, 77 minutes).

Unused substitutes: Benji Buchel, Aaron Martin, Joe Rothwell, Sam Long.

Goals: Posh - Nichols (62). Oxford - Thomas (46), Maguire (penalty, 93)

Red cards: Posh - Baldwin (two yellows).

Cautions: Posh - Edwards (foul), Forrester, (simulation), Da Silva Lopes (foul). Oxford - Sercombe (foul), Skarz (foul), Maguire (foul).

Referee: Seb Stockbridge 6.

Attendance: 7,500 (Posh 798).