New year, same old rubbish, at the ABAX Stadum at least, the place where Peterborough United players fear to tread.
It’s difficult to understand why. Considering the dross they’ve been served up (and the last two home performances have been scarily bad) home fans present at matches have been remarkably patient. Even the predictable ABAX boos that greeted the final whistle after a dispiriting 2-0 home defeat at the hands of struggling Scunthorpe on New Year’s Day weren’t that loud and didn’t last that long.
But manager Steve Evans has a problem now. For the first time this season he no longer has the comfort blanket of a top six position and his own mood probably won’t have been helped by his predecessor Grant McCann’s Doncaster sailing past his own side courtesy of a thumping 5-0 win. The boss needs to find a solution quickly to get Posh back on the play-off track so an 11-day break from League One action must be properly utilised, even if means weakening the chances of success in two knockout competitions.
Evans is seeking further help in the transfer market leaving chairman Darragh MacAnthony and his co-owners with decisions to make re financial support. MacAnthony has rarely let managers down in that respect, but he’d be entitled to think twice after watching so many new players arrive in the summer and flop, by failing to get into the side, or by turning promising starts into error-strewn performances.
MacAnthony once despatched Gary Johnson, a man with many promotions on his CV, when his team were seventh in League One, but then he had a still fired-up Darren Ferguson up his sleeve. That probably won’t be the course of action taken now even though Ferguson is currently out of the game, and nor should it be, as Evans has had just 10 months and one transfer window to build a promotion-challenging side and, as remarkable as it seems at times, his Posh team are just two points behind fourth-placed Barnsley, a side still being strongly tipped for automatic promotion.
Evans will have his tactics questioned, and yet again in the space of a few days we saw what works away doesn’t work at home when attacking space is at more of a premium, but he’s astute enough to know the type of player required to breathe life back into the season. Expect full-backs, central defenders, central midfielders and attacking support for the admirable Ivan Toney to be on the January transfer window wish list.
Evans delivered a tactical masterstroke at Accrington at the weekend by utilising Sirikie Dembele as a central striker and using captain Alex Woodyard’s terrier-like qualities further forward. Understandably the same team started against Scunthorpe in the same formation, but the visitors largely nullified Dembele by sitting deep and cutting out the many attempted long passes in his direction and the skipper, whose workrate was impressive, had his passing limitations cruelly exposed. Posh, for whom scoring first remains critical, can’t keep the ball well enough to generate sustained spells of pressure.
To get a measure of how bad this performance was digest the fact that Scunthorpe, who named just five substitutes, started the day with the worst defensive record in League One and yet the only catch their ‘keeper Jak Alnwick had to make was a plastic bottle apparently lobbed at him from the London Road End. No shots on target despite Posh employing every component of their attacking armoury apart from rookie Matt Stevens.
Consider also Scunthorpe’s recent run of six successive League One defeats when they didn’t score a single goal. Yesterday they could have been 3-0 up inside the opening six minutes. George Thomas struck the bar and had another effort cleared off the line by Ryan Tafazolli before Lee Novak accepted Joe Ward’s horrible backpass and shot his side in front after six minutes.
Ward was mentioned unflatteringly in despatches by Evans after the game before earning a sympathy tweet from MacAnthony later in the evening. It was the same bad cop/good cop routine for Louis Reed who was at fault for Novak’s second goal just before the hour mark, a moment that drained the life out of Posh who drifted rather aimlessly to the final whistle.
There is a real and apparent danger the entire season might go the same way. The new recruits, and a creative midfielder with vision and a complete passing range should be the number one priority, need to be good ones.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Jason Naismith, Tyler Denton, Rhys Bennett, Ryan Tafazolli (sub Jason Cummings, 76 mins), Alex Woodyard, Louis Reed (sub George Cooper, 60 mins), Marcus Maddison, Joe Ward (sub Matt Godden, 60 mins), Ivan Toney, Siriki Dembele.
Unused substitutes: Aaron Chapman, Mark O’Hara, Matt Stevens, Darren Lyon.
Scunthorpe: Jak Alnwick, Kyle Wootton, Camron Borthwick-Jackson, James Perch, Charlie Goode, Rory McArdle, Cameron Burgess, Funso Ojo, Levi Sutton, Lee Novak, George Thomas.
Unused substitutes: Jonathan Flatt, Ike Ugbo, Andy Dales, Clayton Lewis, Yasin Ben El-Mhanni.
Scunthorpe - Novak ( 6 mins & 58 mins),
Cautions: Posh - Toney (unsportsmanlike conduct), Maddison (foul).
Scunthorpe - Novak (foul), Alnwick (unsportsmanlike conduct), Wootton (persistent fouling), Pearch (foul), Borthwick-Jackson (foul).
Referee: Ollie Yates 6
Attendance: 6,974 (238 Scunthorpe).