Peterborough United manager Steve Evans turned a cup cliche on its head after an impressive Checkatrade Trophy success at Stamford Bridge last night (January 12).
“Anyone away from home,” Evans replied when asked who he’d want Posh to play in the quarter-finals.
It was an understandable response. Apart from the odd blip, and the massacre at Middlesbrough, Posh have been a far better side on their travels than at the ABAX Stadium. Indeed the fast, counter-attacking football that saw off Chelsea’s kids was a throwback to August when Posh were regularly dismantling the hoofball theory that surrounds Evans and his managerial style.
It didn’t last. As Posh became less consistent, longer passes became more evident. The entertainment levels, which never got very high in home games after the first two outings anyway, dropped off a cliff as the number of complaints peaked.
But last night might well have been the dawn of a new possession-friendly style of play. Lee Tomlin didn’t achieve an awful lot in his 45 minutes on the pitch, but his mere presence demands the ball be played along the deck more often.
And that’s a style that actually suits so many others in this line-up. Wingers Siriki Dembele and Marcus Maddison should be licking their lips at the prospect of feeding on Tomlin’s astute passing game and if the Cardiff loanee is off his game (or until he’s properly match fit) his replacement at Stamford Bridge George Cooper showed how he will benefit from balls to his feet in central areas.
Cooper should have scored from his first involvement in the game, but he went on to buzz around the Chelsea back four most effectively.
One concern about Tomlin’s arrival was the ability of those around him to get him the ball regularly. The performances of Louis Reed and Callum Cooke together in front of the back four in a 4-2-3-1 formation last night showed what’s possible with the right encouragement, so much so skipper Alex Woodyard, an ever-present in League One this season, and new signing Kyle Dempsey won’t be certainties to start in a much more important game against Rochdale in Saturday (January 12).
Unfortunately it’s at home, but Dale’s injury-stricken squad has been leaking goals for fun (17 in the last four matches) so a repeat of the levels reached by Dembele, Maddison and Ivan Toney last night would surely lead to a first Saturday home success since August 18?
All three scored last night to make the concession of a free header from a corner on the stroke of half-time to Richard Nartey a mere irritatation. In a 10-minute spell from the 65th minute Dembele cut inside three men and fired into the corner of the net, Toney stretched out a long leg to divert Maddison’s cross beyond Chelsea ‘keeper Jake Cummings and Maddison scored in clinical fashion after accepting Cooke’s accurate pass.
Posh deserved a win that leaves two more victories from Wembley. They didn’t play badly in the first half until reaching the edge of the Chelsea area, but they were most impressive in a second period of almost total domination until Chelsea’s best player Conor Gallagher hit the bar in the 86th minute with a terrific chip.
Apart from sleeping at a set-piece Posh also defended with great organisation and discipline with right-back Joe Ward coming through an at times fierce examination from left-winger Juan Costillo who hugged the touchline like a modern day John Robertson.
‘It was only Chelsea Under 21s’ came the predictable cry from Posh followers who can’t stop accentuating the negatives. Maybe so, but it was a gifted young side who wanted to travel one step further than last season when they were only beaten in a semi-final on penalties.
It remains a hope more than an expectation that Posh build on a decent win and performance though.
Too many times this team has followed excellence away from home with a dismal display at the ABAX.
It’s time for that to change.