Peterborough United manager Grant McCann walked into the post-match press conference today (September 24) and straight away almost walked out again.
“Just repeat what I said after last weekend’s game,” McCann muttered before breaking into a smile and staying put.
He had a point. A poor start to the game and the concession of an early goal? Check. Develop pretty passing patterns? Check. Display the killer instinct of a tortoise? The most disappointing check of them all.
At least Posh didn’t lose this week thanks to Marcus Maddison’s superb equalising goal 11 minutes after his side had fallen behind, but then this week they weren’t playing a team anywhere near as good as Sheffield United. Heck, they weren’t even playing a team anywhere near as good as Walsall possessed last season.
Crucially though the Saddlers have retained goalkeeper Neil Etheridge. He might just be the best in his position in the division now that Dan Bentley has left Southend in the lurch. He looked like it today, making three terrific stops to thwart a deflected Gwion Edwards’ strike in the first-half, George Moncur’s corner-of-the-net bound effort at the start of the second half and, most impressively of all, a brilliant point-blank block of a Tom Nichols’ header 20 minutes from time. That last effort was the one that persuaded McCann to compare Etheridge to Gordon Banks.
It wasn’t as good as ‘that’ save from the 1970 World Cup, but then Nichols is no Pele. It did preserve Walsall a point though as Posh, not helped by substituting Taylor and Moncur for far weaker performers, faded so quickly from a position of complete dominance, the visitors almost snatched a winning goal through left-back Scott Laird whose rasping drive from a tricky angle smacked into the inside of a post and out to safety four minutes from time.
Defeat would have been harsh on Posh who started and finished the match weakly, but performed impressively in the middle part when Etheridge earned his money and established his reputation.
Captain Chris Forrester’s class on the ball started many excellent moves that were helped on by the likes of Moncur and Edwards, but this is a team that lacks a ruthless streak in front of goal. Maddison’s goal wasn’t even a chance as he accepted Moncur’s short pass and curled the ball beautifully into the top corner of the net.
Otherwise crosses flash across goal or aren’t even delivered at all because Posh often have just Nichols anywhere near the opposition goal. And he is a slight figure, found just the once by Taylor’s pinpoint centre which Eheridge ensured came to nothing. When Etheridge was beaten, as he was in the final moment of the first-half, Florent Cuvelier was on hand to boot Edwards’ shot off the goal-line after Ryan Tafazolli had made his presence felt at a corner.
As he had threatened, McCann, as well as recalling Ryan Tafazolli for his first League One start since opening day, crammed as much attacking talent as possible into his starting line-up. Unsurprisingly this led to a wide open first-half with both teams appearing to employ tackling as a last resort.
Particularly in the opening stages, Walsall, including former Posh playmaker Erhun Oztumer, found it easy to stroll unchallenged through crowded midfield areas. Better sudes would have punished Posh, but too many Walsall attempts at goal were taken from outside the penalty area and Posh goalkeeper Luke McGee had to beat just one of them, from Kieron Morris, away before he was beaten by Simeon Jackson’s cleverly-placed header from Florent Cuvelier’s cross in the 16th minute.
The Posh response to that goal was pleasingly strong, but until they find a prolific goal-scoring striker capable of getting on the end of their more penetrative moves they will struggle to reach, and then stay in, the play-off places.
That player is probably injured rather than on the substitutes’ bench. The changes today were born of tiredness, but they killed any momentum Posh had.
Posh: Luke McGee, Michael Smith, Andrew Hughes, Michael Bostwick, Ryan Tafazolli, Chris Forrester, Gwion Edwards, Marcus Maddison, George Moncur (sub Nathan Oduwa, 76 mins), Paul Taylor (sub Deon Moore, 71 mins), Tom Nichols. Unused substitutes: Leo Da Silva Lopes, Mark Tyler, Hayden White, Jack Baldwin, Callum Chettle.
Walsall: Neil Etheridge, Scott Laird, James O’Connor, Jason McCarthy, Kevin Toner, Adam Chambers, Erhun Oztumer, Kieron Morris, Florent Cuvelier (sub Franck Moussa, 62 mins), Simeon Jackson, Andreas Makris (sub Isaiah Osborne, 76 mins). Unused substitutes: Craig MacGiillivray, Matt Preston, George Dobson, Liam Kinsella, Amadou Bakayoko.
Goals: Posh - Maddison (27 mins).
Walsall - Jackson (16 mins),
Cautions: Posh - Nichols (foul).
Walsall: Moussa (foul).
Referee: Ben Toner 8
Attendance: 4,906 (314 Walsall).