League 1 report: So much for this being a special occasion - Peterborough United’s 2,500th Football League match today (November 1) will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
A dismal 2-1 defeat at the hands of struggling Scunthorpe provided a third successive reverse and completed a full set of losses against the current bottom four as Posh slipped out of the League One play-off places.
It is a tale of footballing woe which suggests there are major problems at London Road, not least the considerable blow of losing mercurial talent Marcus Maddison to ankle ligament damage.
The sight of the former Gateshead gem hobbling through the main stand around an hour before kick-off while wearing a protective boot on an injured foot will have filled those already inside the stadium with dread. Even in that condition you suspect he could have had more impact than some of his team-mates managed in that fixture that followed.
Maddison’s injury (sustained in training on Tuesday, scanned on Thursday and kept quiet until after the teamsheets had been submitted, presumably to hoodwink the visitors) meant Posh went into battle with their best attacker injured, their best midfielder banned and the man who many perceive to be their best defender dropped to the bench.
Gaby Zakuani’s failure to hold down a regular place in a line-up containing three central defenders is an ongoing mystery. His exit was one of five changes, only two of which were enforced.
A sixth alteration saw the inclusion of a new name on the substitutes’ bench - that of 17 year-old goalkeeper Dion Henry. The youth ace became the sixth custodian to be involved in a matchday squad already this season following the departure of non-contract player Aidan Grant.
Posh should have made the perfect start as captain for the day Jack Baldwin, who donned the armband in the absence of regular skipper Jack Payne due to suspension, missed a glorious headed opportunity in the second minute.
And Baldwin’s afternoon didn’t get any better. He was found wanting defensively as Luke Williams skipped through his powder-puff challenge to fire Scunthorpe ahead in the 14th minute and then departed due to injury before the break.
Baldwin’s early exit with a knee problem - which his manager fears will be followed by a long absence - meant a change of formation as Posh ditched their 3-4-1-2 system after 40 minutes of insipid football in which only Nathaniel Mendez-Laing extended visiting goalkeeper Sam Slocombe.
Many would suggest it should not return either - at least not in the confused state that it operated in this game with a right-back at left wing-back, an attacking player at right wing-back and man often seen at left back in the hole behind the strikers.
No wonder sloppy giveaways, blind flicks and over-hit crosses had been the order of the day until the arrival of Conor Washington and a shift to a 4-4-2 set-up which eventually led to at least players reverting to more suitable positions.
In fact some of Posh’s passing up until that point had been about as accurate as the attempts of their supporters taking part in the half-time Skip Challenge.
But they were fortunate not to fall further behind early in the second half.
Ben Alnwick denied Paddy Madden with a hint of good fortune as the ball struck the goalkeeper on the inside of the leg and rolled wide before Lyle Taylor smacked a rebound against the post after Alnwick had parried a long-range Gary McSheffrey shot.
Alnwick also needed two attempts to grab a low shot from Isaiah Osbourne (the best player on the pitch) before Posh finally found their stride.
Ricardo Santos saw a header from a corner saved before Jon Taylor’s shot was well kept out by Slocombe after an excellent interception, burst forward and pass from Joe Newell
But a breakthrough arrived when Washington raced in to finish coolly after a weak Slocombe clearance had been nodded into his path by a stooping Michael Bostwick to inspire a change of mood inside London Road.
The belief appeared to come flooding back to players and fans alike, but seven minutes later it had disappeared.
Osbourne’s shot took a huge deflection off the leg of the recalled Santos (preferred to Zakuani) and left Alnwick with no chance as the ball nestled in the back of the net.
It had the effect of a drawing pin in a balloon and it will more than likely go down as an own goal, but the finer details are of trivial importance.
What matters more is the fact that Posh created next-to-nothing despite having half-an-hour (including stoppage time) to salvage the contest.
The closest they came was when Michael Bostwick glanced a stoppage-time header wide, but in all truth a leveller would have been a travesty.
Posh have serious questions to answer and Fergie must find them fast.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Ricardo Santos, Jack Baldwin (sub Conor Washington 40), Christian Burgess, Michael Smith, Grant McCann (sub Jermaine Anderson 58), Michael Bostwick, Joe Newell, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, Luke James (sub Kenneth McEvoy 75), Jon Taylor. Unused subs: Dion Henry, Erhun Oztumer, Kane Ferdinand, Gaby Zakuani.
Player ratings: Smith and Newell the pick of a below-par bunch
Scunthorpe: Sam Slocombe, Luke O’Neill, Andrew Boyce, Miguel Llera, Marcus Williams, Neal Bishop, Isaiah Osbourne, Luke Williams (sub Sean McAllister 86), Gary McSheffrey, Paddy Madden, Lyle Taylor (sub Billy Kee 72). Unused subs: Pat Weaver, Jennison Myrie-Williams, Terry Hawkridge, Hakeeb Adelakun, Kyle Wootton.
Referee: Darren Bond (Lancashire).
Attendance: 6275 (486 away).
Goals: Posh – Washington (57). Scunthorpe – L. Williams (14), Santos og (64).
Bookings: Posh – Bostwick (foul). Scunthorpe – L. Williams (foul), McSheffrey (foul), Bishop (not retreating).