There’s a distinct lack of Christmas cheer at Peterborough United.
The season of peace and goodwill to all men appears to have passed the football club by as Boxing Day in Barnsley (a trip on the wishlist of absolutely no-one at at this time of the year) was accompanied by anger levels which usually prompt medical visits to a counsellor.
The manager raged at the match officials, a healthy number of travelling fans raged at the manager, while supporters raged at each other on social media, a fine creation that’s been taken over and abused by the angry brigade. There was justification in all levels of rage, and one hopes the players are also furious enough with their recent efforts to want to make amends, but just how on earth it all helps the club reach a common goal is anyone’s guess. There is such an increasing clamour for a mid-season change of manager it’s hard to believe Posh are sixth from top, behind five bigger clubs, rather than six from bottom.
It’s a tough gig being Posh manager. You need a thick skin and a place in the top two to please almost everyone and Steve Evans currently only has one of those, a fact unlikely to change this season. It’s not enough to occupy a top six spot for the opening half of the campaign, not when you needed help from little Fleetwood to stay there as was the case yesterday.
The problem with delivering a style of football disliked by many is the absolute need to keep winning. The memory of West Ham fans taunting their own manager Sam Allardyce as his team cruised to a win at London Road on their way to promotion from the Championship in 2012 remains fresh. ‘We want our club back’ they chanted. The football of Brooking and Devonshire seemed to be just as important as a place in the Premier League to Hammers fans.
The Posh ‘tradition’ for passing football is far more recent and certainly wasn’t in place when the late, great Chris Turner was winning promotions. A style championed by chairman Darragh MacAnthony and made reality by Darren Ferguson’s management of gifted players, has hung over the numerous managers employed since Fergie’s second departure. Only Graham Westley has come close and then with a formation put in place by Grant McCann who went on to blow his own shot at glory.
Evans is not known for slick-passing midfield diamonds, but he has rarely failed to deliver success in the lower divisions. His one full season at League One level ended in promotion through the play-offs when Rotherham were in a worse place than his current Posh side at Christmas. They must have had more momentum though. Posh are currently experiencing a slow slide down the table and now the mask of an 11-game unbeaten run has been ripped off to reveal a sequence of one win in eight League One games.
Evans is no fool. He admitted after yesterday’s game, one which apparently saw three shots on goal and only one on target, Posh form hasn’t been good enough for two months before launching into a plea for more new players to add to the 18 he signed in the summer. He certainly needs them as Posh have lost focus in all areas of the squad. A packed defence ultimately flattered to deceive at Barnsley and playing Marcus Maddison in the hole behind two strikers will never succeed until players who can pass the ball accurately on the ground are located.
The 3-4-1-2 formation may be the plan when/if Lee Tomlin signs (if he does it could be like throwing a firework into a toxic atmosphere), but others will have to arrive to give it a chance of working.
Yesterday’s result against a squad full of Championship players on second tier money was actually far less worrying than Saturday’s result and performance against a Walsall side subsequently trimmed up at home by lowly Bristol Rovers.
Posh needed everything to go their way at Oakwell, including refereeing decisions. They also needed their top scorer Matt Godden to convert the two excellent chances he had, one in each half. Neither happened as Posh left the ground fuming at the lack of a penalty decision when Mark O’Hara was sent tumbling early on and at the laughable simulation yellow card for Ivan Toney 20 minutes from time when a red card for dozy defensive midfielder Kenny Dougall.
Posh were 2-0 down by then after a collective defensive failure led to a tap-in for Alex Mowatt after 24 minutes and a superb strike from Cauley Woodrow settled matters three minutes into the second half. Woodrow could have had a hat-trick in five minutes as either side of his wonderful goal he spurned two much easier opportunities.
Barnsely were way off the standard they showed at the ABAX Stadium in October, but they were still too good. They are the only League One team to have beaten Posh by more than one goal this season - they’ve done it twice - but they might not be the last unless reinforcements arrive.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Jason Naismith (sub Darren Lyon, 68 mins), Colin Daniel (sub Siriki Dembele, 56 mins), Rhys Bennett, Ryan Tafazolli, Alex Woodyard, Mark O’Hara, Marcus Maddison, Joe Ward, Matt Godden (sub Jason Cummings, 56 mins), Ivan Toney.
Unused substitutes: Aaron Chapman, Louis Reed, George Cooper, Matt Stevens.
Barnsley: Adam Davies, Kenny Dougall (sub, Victor Adeboyejo, 86 mins), Ethan Pinnock, Liam Lindsay, Dimitri Cavare, Cameron McGeehan, Mike Bahre (sub Mamadou Thiem, 78 mins), Brad Potts (sub Jacob Brown, 73 mins), Daniel Pinillos, Alex Mowatt, Cauley Woodrow.
Substitutes: Jake Greatorex, Ryan Hedges, George Moncur, Adam Jackson.
Goals: Barnsley - Mowatt (24 mins), Woodrow (49 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Toney (simulation).
Barnsley - Dougall (foul).
Referee: Carl Boyeson 5.
Attendance: 12,843 (688 Posh).