Imagine performing like Audley Harrison for 45 minutes before turning into Anthony Joshua. That was Peterborough United yesterday (December 10).
Posh were leaden-footed and powerduff against lowly Chesterfield at the ABAX Stadium in the first-half, but thrilling, exhilarating and explosive after the break to leave their visitors sprawled, badly beaten and bloodied, on the canvas.
Five outstanding goals ultimately beat two deflected efforts. It was a private goal-of-the-day competition from Posh with Gwion Edwards winning it with a glorious 25-yard screamer on the stroke of half-time which also proved to be the contest’s pivotal moment. One that changed the mood of the players if not manager Grant McCann.
McCann was furious with his side’s first-half performance. He was embarrassed his players were able to troop back to the dressing room on level terms at 2-2 after watching his side outpassed and outmanouevred by the side who started the day 22nd in the League One table.
Apart from a goal after 25 seconds from Tom Nichols - the result of some fine interplay between all three forward players - and Edwards’ last-gasp shot at glory, Chesterfield were far superior, even if it took two generous ricochets off Posh defenders to give Ched Evans and Liam O’Neill their goals within five minutes of each other midway through the half.
“My teams don’t play like that,” McCann insisted. “We scored in the first minute and then sat back and watched Chesterfield play. They have good players and they are fighting to get out of the relegation places. I knew it would be a tough game, but maybe a first-minute goal persuaded my players otherwise.”
McCann, a softly-spoken man generally. must have scared his players with his half-time rant as they were a team transformed in the second-half, led by Paul Taylor, a man whose ability to create excitement is often outweighed by his ability to cause frustration. Taylor, despite all that talent, hadn’t scored a League One goal since August 16.
And he had big boots to fill here. Marcus Maddison, the team’s attacking king, finally succumbed to a long-standing ankle niggle and was replaced at the tip of the midfield diamond by a player with fast feet, great pace and who plays on instinct, while hoping to find team-mates on similar wavelengths.
It worked in this game. Taylor delivered the cross for Nichols’ first-minute strike, scored a belter from the edge of the penalty area to shoot Posh back in front 10 minutes into the second-half - after a neat little pass and go with Nichols - and returned the favour 10 minutes later by weighting his pass perfectly, after another dazzling turn and run, for Nichols to crash home a fourth Posh goal.
Michael Bostwick smashed home the fifth goal from outside the area eight minutes from time following a short corner and a smart pass from substitute George Moncur. Chesterfield manager Danny Wilson felt his side defended well which is a clue to the quality of the Posh ball-striking.
Wilson was also aggrieved his team weren’t in front at half-time and by his players’ failing miserably to replicate their display in the second half. The truth was they weren’t given the chance as this very fit and fast Posh side pressed harder and passed the ball much better after escaping from their manager’s ear-bashing.
Posh would be mistaken to think they have this division cracked though. More clinical teams than Chesterfield would have been further ahead before Edwards’ decisive intervention and at 3-2 down the visitors missed a great headed chance to equalise through Jake Beesley.
Tom Anderson should also have scored with a header from a corner in the first-half and other opportunities came and went, often bouncing to safety off the impressive frame of Ryan Tafazolli.
In the dodgy period Posh were over-run in central areas and Andrew Hughes found life tough against fast-raiding opponents. The protection the back four receive when Michael Bostwick is in midfield is not provided by Chris Forrester.
But Posh could also have scored more goals. An improvised back-heel from Taylor and a rare burst into life from Leo Da Silva Lopes almost led to a first-half goal for Shaquile Coulthirst and a neat Nichols’ flick was deflected behind for a corner minutes later.
Coulthirst, played through by Nichols, saw another chance for a goal thwarted by visiting goalkeeper Ryan Fulton on the hour mark and and Fulton also did well to push away a decent Hughes free kick.
Posh have relied more on an improved back four than the quality and dash of their forward players this season, but this was a throwback to the more recent glory days when all-out attack proved the best defence.
It’s too early to say the entertainers are back, but a knockout second-half display gave reason to be far more optimistic for the immediate future.
Posh: Luke McGee, Michael Smith, Andrew Hughes, Michael Bostwick, Ryan Tafazolli, Chris Forrester, Gwion Edwards (sub Nathan Oduwa, 87 mins), Leo Da Silva Lopes (sub Brad Inman, 86 mins), Paul Taylor, Tom Nichols, Shaquile Coulthirst (sub George Moncur, 67 mins). Unused substitutes: Mark Tyler, Jerome Binnom-Williams, Ricardo Santos, Callum Chettle.
Chesterfield: Ryan Fulton, Tom Anderson, Laurence Maguire (sub Derek Daly, 72 mins), Connor Dimaio, Ian Evatt, Liam O’Neill, Rai Simons (sub Gboly Ariyibi, 67 mins), Gary Liddle, Jay O’Shea, Jake Beesley (sub Connor Wilkinson 71 mins), Ched Evans. Unused substitutes: Lloyd Allinson, Sam Hird, Christian Dennis, Curtis Morrison.
Goals: Posh - Nichols (1 min & 66 mins), Edwards (45 + 2 mins), Taylor (56 mins), Bostwick (83 mins).
Chesterfield - Evans (22 mins), O’Neill (26 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Bostwick (foul), Inman (foul).
Chesterfield - O’Neill (foul), Daly (foul).
Referee: Nigel Miller 8
Attendance: 5,120 (220 Chesterfield).