The many Peterborough United fans who stayed away last night (February 23) showed the best judgement.
Posh are a tough watch right now, Burton and Bolton live on the television, never mind Barcelona and Bayern, might have been enough to ensure the ABAX Stadium was deserted and therefore devoid of atmosphere for the visit of lowly Oldham,
Indeed Posh attracted their lowest home gate for a Football League match since February, 2007, when the dream team double act of Darragh MacAnthony and Darren Ferguson was in its infancy. MacAnthony is still in post of course, but, privately at least, he might just be wondering whether or not the glory days will ever return.
Posh are a club in retreat. Since returning to League One in 2013, they’ve finished sixth and eighth and, barring large injections of confidence, fighting spirit and sensible game management for the remaining 14 matches, the downward trend looks set to continue.
Posh manager Graham Westley’s word of the post-match press conference was ‘malaise’, a discomfort that can be difficult to identify. It’s a perfectly adequate description, but one that he is charged with locating and curing. The signs aren’t exactly promising.
The weaknesses in the Posh style of play were rumbled in December, but were hidden by some decent FA Cup displays. Posh may have been poor in all three games since their heroic failure against West Brom, but their bad run extends well beyond recent matches. It’s now 11 points from 12 League One outings with just the nine goals scored.
Posh have become predictable in possession and dis-organised in defence during that spell. They were traits again in evidence last night as an Oldham side who had won five of 30 league matches before the game deservedly claimed a vital 2-1 victory in their fight against the drop.
Posh should still have enough to make sure they don’t join that particular battle, but games are arriving thick and fast now and the League One table can change quickly. Westley’s men need to ensure the club’s ‘young and hungry’ policy doesn’t become an epitaph rather than a proud badge of honour.
Westley of course wasn’t helped last night by the absence of two key men in Michael Bostwick and Chris Forrester. He also wasn’t helped by his decision to bring left-back Kgosi Ntlhe back in from the cold back-firing spectacularly within two minutes.
Ntlhe, who wants to leave Posh in the summer, can appear to possess an arrogance and aloofness that is out of kilter with his achievements in the game so far and his hopeless attempt at controlling a simple ball enabled Cameron Dummigan to deliver an expert finish into the corner of Ben Alnwick’s net from the edge of the penalty area.
Oldham hadn’t conceded in their previous three away games in the league so falling behind so early was a potential disaster for Posh, but to be fair, despite looking shaky and physically out-matched defensively, they rallied pretty well and were worth an equaliser six minutes before the break when a fierce cross from Marcus Maddison looked to have bounced beyond the goal-line, after a touch from visiting ‘keeper Joel Coleman, and before Souleymane Coulibaly made sure from close range.
Maddison was at the heart of most of the good Posh attacking play. One classy dribble into the penalty area was spoiled by a decision to shoot from a tough angle rather than pass to better-placed team-mates, but he was direct and inventive, qualities that weren’t always appreciated by his team-mates.
Lee Angol should have levelled for Posh earlier after Coleman spilled Ntlhe’s (the full-back looked much better going forward than he did defending) long-range shot into his path, but Posh finished the half so strongly confidence was high they would go on to win the game.
But for the first half-an-hour after the break they were awful. Passes went astray - Erhun Oztumer badly misses the willing running of Conor Washington - and clearing the defensive lines was proving difficult. Intelligent runs by forwards were non-existent despite some animated urging from the technical area by Westley.
As a result Oldham dominated the ball and territory. The visitors were faster, stronger and technically far superior. They played positively and with great energy and Posh were rocking well before the winning goal arrived 17 minutes from time.
It wasn’t a goal Alnwick will remember with any fondness or pride. The goalkeeper gave the captaincy up before the match, but that presumably didn’t stop him berating himself after spilling Carl Winchester’s hopeful long-range strike and compounding the error by hauling Matt Palmer down to concede a penalty. Alnwick got hands to Liam Kelly’s firmly-struck, low spot-kick, but couldn’t keep the ball out.
Alwnick had earlier saved well from Dummigan after an impressive burst into the area by the mnidfielder. Aaron Amadi-Holloway, one of two powerful forwards to trouble Posh centre-backs Gaby Zakuani and Jack Baldwin, had also headed a superb cross from Winchester wide.
And just after the successful penalty, Anthony Gerraed struck the post with a firm header from a corner before Posh finally generated some sort of threat in the final stages. There was nothing measured or classy about their play, but they did fashion one glorious chance to claim an unlikely equaliser five minutes frorm time when substitute Shaquile Coulthirst brilliantly controlled a Maddison cross before shooting horribly wide from a great position.
Five minutes of added time didn’t make a difference and the sight of Oztumer and substitute Martin Samuelsen wasting the final 60 seconds by dribbling and running backwards rather than going for goal rather summed up another muddled performance.
Westley at least didn’t adopt a ‘square pegs in round holes’ selection policy for this match, but the midfield diamond, especially with Forrester pulling the strings, has become too easy to play against. It suddenly looks like Westley is working with a squad high on numbers, but low on quality, experience and confidence.
The manager did surprise by sending on Aaron Williams for his debut in the final 20 minutes ahead of recent signing Tom Nichols, In the last two matches, Westley has turned to players who had started the season with Histon and Nuneaton respectively to save the day.
It’s bold decision-making, but also gambles that never looked like paying off.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith, Kgosi Ntlhe, Gaby Zakuani, Jack Baldwin, Harry Beautyman, Jon Taylor (sub Martin Samuelsen, 69 mins), Erhun Oztumer, Marcus Maddison, Lee Angol (sun Aaron Williams, 76 mins), Souleymane Coulibaly (sub Shaquile Coulthirst, 69 mins). Unused substitutes: Ricardo Santos, Dion-Curtis Henry, Andrew Fox,Tom Nichols.
Oldham: Joel Coleman, Thimothee Dieng, James Wilson, Anthony Gerrard, Daniel Lafferty, Cameron Dummigan, Liam Kelly, Matthew Palmer, Aaron Holloway, Carl Winchester, Curtis Main (sub Jonathan Forte, 62 mins). Unused substitutes: David Cornell, Connor Brown, Brian Wilson, Lee Croft, Jake Cassidy, Rhys Murphy.
Goals: Posh - Coulibaly (39 mins)
Oldham - Dummigan (2 mins), Kelly (pen, 73 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Baldwin (foul)
Oldham - Lafferty (delaying te re-start), J. Wilson (foul).
Referee: David Webb 6.
Attendance: 3,544 (183 Oldham).