Peterborough United manager Steve Evans is probably among those who believe 50% of statistics are made up.
He’s not the dinosaur some like to make out - he knows how far his players run during a game and he can work a dvd - but for him the only match numbers that matter are goals scored and points won. Posh have nine goals and nine points and sit top of the table. They are one goal ahead of last season’s scoring pace and already this looks like a team built to last the course and one that won’t be relying on one man for their goals.
Possession certainly appears to be overrated by this Posh team (43% in this game yesterday, August 18) which enables opponents as talented as Luton to win the shot count (21-11) and the corner count (11-3).
And yet the Hatters first Football League visit to London Road for 13 years ended in comfortable defeat as Posh continued their habit in League One matches of blowing teams away in the first 45 minutes and then setting up camp on the edge of their own area for the second-half. Posh had two shots after the break (they’ve scored just one second-half goal so far, in the 94th minute at Rochdale), in the 46th minute from Matt Godden which drew a fine low save from Luton ‘keeper Marek Stech and in the 86th minute when Joe Ward passed the shooting responsibility to substitute Ivan Toney whose effort was diverted behind for a corner by a defender.
In between it was one long keepball session from Luton punctuated by Posh conceding numerous free kicks to break their rhythm. The home side won the foul count by a massive 21-11, and it would have been 22 had referee Graham Salisbury not surprisingly overturned his own decision to punish left-back Colin Daniel for one of his reckless lunges with a penalty just before the break.
A goal then might have given Luton the momentum and confidence to claw back a three-goal deficit, a point made by Luton boss Nathan Jones after the match. Jones also admitted the better team won and by inference admitted he’d been out-managed by Evans, a statement that must have hurt someone not known for a lack of self-belief.
“I set the team up differently, but in a way I though we could hurt them,” Jones admitted. “it didn’t work and they overpowered us in the first half. That’s my fault. Well done to Peterborough and to Steve Evans on their victory.”
Luton started with three centre-backs and two wing-backs, but they lacked strength and pace defensively which meant field days for a lively Posh front two and little winger Siriki Dembele who made hay down flanks protected only by far more cumbersome opponents.
All three Posh goals were remarkably similar as counter-attacks were launched twice by centre-back Rhys Bennett and once by wideman Joe Ward. Cummings was tripped by Stech after accepting strike partner Matt Godden’s pass to earn a penalty he converted on 18 minutes and then Dembele picked himself off the floor to score in thrilling fashion two minutes later. Dembele fed Cummings for what looked like a smartly-taken third goal seven minutes before the break enabling Posh to preserve energy throughout the second period ahead of two tough road trips.
“They couldn’t cope with our intensity before the break,” Evans enthused. “If we can now turn 45-minute performances into 90 minutes we will take some stopping.”
Indeed. Most Posh watchers would concur with that, maybe even Marcus Maddison who returned from an exile that was largely self-imposed to sit unused on the substitutes’ bench.
It would be foolish to ignore Maddison’s talents if the Championship doesn’t come calling before August 31, but only if he takes note of Dembele’s ability to pick himself up after getting flattened on the edge of the penalty area to score rather than scream and roll around, and if he takes note of Ward’s discipline and work ethic, qualities that matter to the current manager more than the possession stats boosted by pointless square and backwards passing preferred by others.
Evans even roasted man-of-the-match Dembele for leaving his man unattended as Luton pulled a goal back late on through Danny Hylton. That’s the standard a demanding manager expects.
Posh: Aaron Chapman, Jason Naismith, Colin Daniel, Rhys Bennett, Ryan Tafazolli, Alex Woodyard, Mark O’Hara (sub Louis Reed, 77 mins), Joe Ward, Siriki Dembele (sub George Cooper, 83 mins), Matt Godden (sub Ivan Toney, 73 mins), Jason Cummings.
Unused substitutes: Mark Tyler, Josh Yorwerth, Callum Cooke, Marcus Maddison.
Luton: Marek Steck, Jack Stacey, Matthew Pearson (sub Andrew Shinnie, 46 mins), Alan Sheehan, Sonny Bradley, Dan Potts, Pelly Ruddick Mpanzu, Alan McCormack (sub Glen Rea, 30 mins), Elliot Lee, Danny Hylton, James Collins (sub Jorge Grant, 73 mins).
Unused substitutes: James Justin, Harry Cornick, Jake Jervis, James Shea.
Goals: Posh - Cummings (18, pen & 38 mins), Dembele (20 mins).
Luton - Stacey (77 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Tafazolli (foul), O’Hara (foul).
Luton - Potts (foul).
Referee: Graham Salisbury 5
Attendance: 8,016 (2,209 Luton).