It’s remarkable really. Peterborough United beat an ailing Rochdale team, who have been shipping goals galore, by a one-goal margin, thanks in part to some fine goalkeeping, and the feelgood factor is back at the ABAX Stadium.
That’s the Lee Tomlin effect. A returning hero whose mere presence demands a more attractive style of passing football and whose ability, even when half fit, can still lift the mood of this most demanding of fanbases. For once this season positives, namely Tomlin’s excellence for 45 minutes and Marcus Maddison’s magnificence for 90 minutes, dominated post-match chat on social media rather than the negative of some desparate defending as Dale staged a rather unikely late fightback.
Once Ben White is well enough to take his place in the centre of defence the aimless long ball might become a thing of the recent Posh past, something which will cause joy on and off the pitch. Posh have some exciting footballers in this squad and they can only benefit from having a player with Tomlin’s vision and creativity alongside them.
Tomlin scored one of two almost identical high quality goals in this 2-1 win and delivered enough clever flicks and cunning passes to suggest scoring won’t be a problem for Posh for the rest of the campaign as long as the talisman stays out of trouble. The last time Posh won promotion from League One, and Tomlin was a key part of it, they scored 106 goals and shipped 75 in their 46 games and it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that sort of entertainment level again until May.
Posh should have won this game far more comfortably. Kyle Dempsey would have crowned an impressive debut with a goal but for a great save by Dale ‘keeper Josh Lillis and Ryan Tafazolli missed the target with a free header eight yards from goal before the break, while Ivan Toney struggled for accuracy when presented with a couple of decent opportunites in the second-half. Maddison alsio struck the inside of a post.
Tomlin opened the scoring midway through the first-half with a curled finish, one matched by his replacement George Cooper four minutes from time. Tomlin ran out of puff in the second-half before leaving to a standing ovation on his 30th birthday.
“I used to be the baby of the Posh team,” Tomlin recalled after the game. “Now the players call me grandad and moan about the attention my return has been receiving!”
Before Cooper’s strike Posh ‘keeper Aaron Chapman had made a couple of excellent saves to thwart Brad Inman and Callum Camps, but goalkeeping remains an issue for manager Steve Evans who was disappointed his 6ft 8ins number one didn’t keep out Ethan Hamilton’s late piledriver in the 90th minute, a goal that preceded some panicky defending in four minutes of added time.
Evans deserves credit for so quickly finding a 4-2-3-1 formation that cleary suits Tomlin. He dropped his undroppable skipper Alex Woodyard to ensure the ball reached the playmakers regularly and accurately, but there might well be more tinkering required as tougher tests against Luton and Charlton arrive.
Joe Ward, for all his impressive energy, is still finding the defensive side of the right-back role hard work, while the ease with which Camps twice ran into the area unmolested - he fired wide from a great chance following a throw-in after Callum Cooke fell asleep - will only encourage League One teams with better forward players.
“We should have been so far ahead at half-time we should have been able to spend the second-half performing an ‘ole’ or two,” Evans declared. “We had to defend a bit towards the end when we got nervous, but we played well enough to be confident for the future.”
A successful future might depend on Tomlin’s fitness, form and behaviour. With all the hullabaloo surrounding his return a suspect temperament has largely been ignored. His last appearance for Posh almost five years to the day featured a goal and a red card in a 5-4 defeat at Oldham.
Posh: Aaron Chapman, Joe Ward (sub Ben White, 87 mins), Daniel Lafferty, Jason Naismith, Ryan Tafazolli, Callum Cooke, Kyle Dempsey (sub Alex Woodyard, 81 mins), Marcus Maddison, Lee Tomlin (sub George Cooper, 70 mins), Siriki Dembele, Ivan Toney.
Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Louis Reed, Matt Godden, Matt Stevens.
Rochdale: Josh Lillis, Joe Rafferty, Jim McNulty, Ryan Delaney (sub Ethan Ebanks-Landell, 46 mins), Stephen Dooley (sub Brad Inman, 77 mins), MJ Williams (sub Calvin Andrew, 46 mins), Callum Camps, Rory Holden, Ethan Hamilton, Ian Henderson, Matty Done.
Unused substitutes: Magnus Norman, Kgosi Nthle, Aaron Wilbraham, Daniel Adshead.
Goals: Posh - Tomlin (23 mins), Cooper (85 mins).
Dale - Hamilton (90 mins).
Cautions: Posh - None
Dale - Done (foul), Hamilton (foul), Rafferty (foul).
Referee: Darren Drysdale 5
Attendance: 6,025 (128 Rochdale)