Oh for a Mackail-Smith, a Gayle, an Assombalonga. Heck, even with a Barnett up front Peterborough United would have probably beaten Gillingham in League One today (December 26).
The work-rate and attitude of Posh strikers Tom Nichols and Shaquile Coulthirst rightly draws regular praise from manager Grant McCann, and from the less miserable members of the club’s fanbase, but ultimately they will be judged on the number of goals they score.
Faced with a ponderous pair of centre-backs, both could have boosted their tallies at the ABAX Stadium in this Boxing Day clash, but while Nichols at least finds scoring positions before he misses, Coulthirst rarely uses his speed and movement in a way which troubles opposition defenders.
And when star play-maker Marcus Maddison delivers such an ineffective hour, in open play at least, it really does handicap an energetic outfit from the kick-off. Unless Lee Angol’s impressive scoring cameo from the substitutes’ bench turns into something prolific, or the incoming St Albans striker can bridge a two-division gap instantly, Posh will continue to rely on their improved back four, a top-class goalkeeper and goals from Gwion Edwards to maintain their position in the race for the play-offs.
“For some reason for an hour or so, we played with little tempo.” moaned Posh boss Grant McCann before answering his own question. “We missed Paul Taylor’s ability to turn on the ball and attack at pace.”
Nichols hurriedly shot wide in the first-half after a deft pass from Edwards played him through and missed horribly after Edwards had again sent him scurrying clear early in the second-half. Gills’ keeper Stuart Nelson saved Nichols’ first effort, but was seated and helpless when the Posh striker sent the rebound wide of a post.
It wasn’t just Nichols who showed a frustrating lack of precision in front of goal. From successive Maddison corners, Ryan Tafazolli missed golden opportunities, particularly his first effort. from eight yards and without the problem of a marker, when he headed powerfully straight at visiting defender Paul Konchesky.
Posh looked to have avoided an inquest when substitute Angol finished superbly 12 minutes from time after being released by Nichols. Nelson made a fine save from Angol’s initial effort, but the second shot was superbly placed into the top corner and looked set to keep Posh in the top six.
Sadly, Posh took the goal to mean all-out defence was required and they sat back, failed to control what possession they mustered and relied on the huge defensive presence of Tafazolli and Michael Bostwick, as well as Luke McGee’s excellence behind them, to scramble home.
They were two minutes from succeeding when a terrific volley from central defender Baily Cargill from a poorly-defender right wing Scott Wagstaff cross finally defeated McGee.
Gills boss Justin Edinburgh claimed it was the least his side deserved and it was easy to see his point of view. His players regularly tested McGee in the first-half and they finished the game strongly enough to make a case for a point.
McGee was in fine form from the second minute when he thwarted Bradley Dack and bettered that stop twice in the opening quarter, firstly from close range to deny Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and then from Wagstaff’s fine strike from 25 yards. Michael Smith was handily placed to keep out Dack’s close-range effort on the stroke of half-time as Gillingham tried to walk, and then pass the ball, into the net.
Gillingham were subdued for most of the second half - apart one shocking miss from Emmanuel-Thomas following a corner - until they fell behind.
Angol’s goal should have been the cue for Posh to pull away. Instead they were hauled back to the frustration of the majority of a crowd who were often as lifeless as the players.
Posh: Luke McGee, Michael Smith, Andrew Hughes, Michael Bostwick, Ryan Tafazolli, Chris Forrester, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Gwion Edwards, Marcus Maddison (sub George Moncur, 67 mins), Shaquile Coulthirst (sub Lee Angol, 61 mins), Tom Nichols (sub Nathan Oduwa, 90 mins). Unused substitutes: Mark Tyler, Ricardo Santos, Jerome Binnom-Williams, Brad Inman,
Gillingham: Stuart Nelson, Ryan Jackson, Max Ehmer, Paul Konchesky, Baily Cargill, Scott Wagstaff, Jake Hessenthaler, Josh Wright, Bradley Dack, Cody McDonald (sub, Nouble, 74 mins), Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. Unused substitutes: Tom Hadler, Adedeji Oshilaja, Rory Donnelly, Billy Knott, Darren Oldaker, Mark Byrne.
Posh - Angol (78 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Da Silva Lopes (foul).
Gillingham - Wright (foul).
Referee: Graham Horwood 8
Attendance: 6,239 (420 Gillingham).