Peterborough United folk getting carried away by perfection in the last two Augusts proved to be a mistake,
It’s only fair therefore not to dismiss manager Darren Ferguson as a stubborn old boss with his best days behind him and write off his expensively rebuilt team after losing the first two games of the current campaign.
That’s not how social media works though. The anticipated tsunami of criticism was drowning the Peterborough Telegraph comment channels within hours of the final whistle at Oxford as expertise, often gained from computer game addiction, and advice both friendly and unfriendly, was hurled at players and staff. Thanks goodness Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony is on one of his vows of social media silence so the more dramatic critics are pretty much howling in the wind.
Two defeats does not a crisis make. It’s right to be concerned with the start eagerly-anticipated new signings like Dan Butler and Mo Eisa have made and that being prepared to be overrun in midfield in the hope that gifted wide players can wreak havoc on the breakaway appears to be a product of false hope already.
But for optimism of a serious promotion push to the belief that two basket-case clubs with financial wise might be key to keeping Posh up after three hours of action is absurdly pessimistic. There are too many gifted attacking players in this squad to fail to cover up cracks at the back while a new-look defence sorts itself out, although winning the first five games after signing 18 new players 12 months ago does niggle at the ‘give us time to gel’ argument.
Eisa made light of his Posh record price tag in a confident pre-season interview, but he wouldn’t be human if it didn’t start to weigh heavily if goals and performances don’t arrive soon. The two previous million pound Posh strikers Britt Assombalonga and Tyrone Barnett both hit the ground running, but only one is remembered fondly so Eisa must stay positive, ignore the naysayers and back himself.
There were positives yesterday (August 10), albeit small ones. Posh were less bad than the previous week and there were signs of a formation, one which involved players performing in positions they know best, that could work.
Ferguson surprised us media men by revealing he’d started in the 4-2-3-1 formation which served him well at the back end of last season. He would know, but Eisa’s inability to get involved made it hard for us laymen to realise.
Josh Knight’s half-time arrival, and that of former King’s Lynn left-back Frazer Blake-Tracy, did stiffen Posh up but they have barely created a chance from open play in two matches now despite the presence of Marcus Maddison, George Boyd and Siriki Dembele. Even Maddison’s set-piece skills let him down yesterday, although a strong wind stifled creative players on both side in all situations.
Oxford sealed the win in the 11th minute through Cameron Brannagan’s well-executed volley after Alex Woodyard, needlessly as it turned out as Niall Mason was right behind him, headed a right-wing cross to the edge of the penalty area.
Oxford’s extra man in midfield (that’s honestly how it appeared no matter what the manager said) enabled the home side to boss possession in the first-half against lacklustre opposition. Chances were rare throughout though with Tarique Fosu hitting the outside of a post in the fifth minute and James Henry clipping a terrific shot against the bar 20 minutes from time. From the rebound Liverpool loanee Ben Woodburn missed an open goal.
Posh huffed and puffed, looked reasonably solid defensively, but rarely looked like scoring. Maddison brought a fine save from home ‘keeper Simon Eastwood with a 22-yard curler and Ivan Toney’s spring beyond the home defence was spoilt by a poor angle and a lack of support.
Oxford saw the game out very professionally, and by ‘professionally’ one means by wasting time at every opportunity, a fact that seemed to escape referee Michael Salisbury in the same way the new law demanding players be substituted at the nearest exit from the pitch did.
‘Don’t panic’ said Posh legend George Boyd before the game. It’s a request that still holds true this morning, now that heat-of-the-moment reactions have left the chests of the angry.
Posh: Christy Pym, Niall Mason, Dan Butler (sub Frazer Blake-Tracy, 46 mins), Frankie Kent, Mark Beevers, Alex Woodyard (sub Louis Reed, 69 mins), George Boyd, Marcus Maddison, Siriki Dembele, Mo Eisa (sub Josh Knight, 46 mins), Ivan Toney.
Unused subs: Aaron Chapman, Joe Ward, Idris Kanu, Jason Naismith.
Oxford: Simon Eastwood, Chris Cadden, Josh Ruffels, Rob Dickie, John Mousinho, Alex Gorrin, Cameron Brannagan (sub Jamie Hanson, 60 mins), Ben Woodburn (sub Ron Hall, 88 mins), Tarique Fosu (sub Anthony Forde, 88 mins), James Henry, Jamie Mackie.
Unused subs: Jack Stevens, Elliott Moore,Sam Long, Malachi Napa.
Goal: Brannagan (11 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Boyd, Kent.
Oxford - Mackie, Brannagan, Gorrin.
Referee: Michael Salisbury 6
Attendance: 6,959 (744 Posh).