The prospect of finishing sixth in League One and suffering a play-off thrashing at the hands of a vastly superior outfit is clearly a daunting one.
Or so it seems. The fact that Peterborough United have won just five of their last 17 League One matches and yet are still within a point of grabbing the final play-off place speaks volumes for the standard of this competition beyond the top five as well as an ABAX Stadium playing squad assembled with indecent haste last summer.
The Posh run-in, on paper at least, gives them hope, but the closing dozen fixtures started with a deserved defeat against the second worst team in the division yesterday (March 9) after a performance that suggested losing at the absolute worst team on Tuesday (March 12) is also a distinct possibility. Posh might have individual attacking players capable of winning League One matches, but they also have a team capable of losing to anyone.
There were mitigating circumstances yesterday. The playing surface was terrible for a start, but a controversially disallowed fourth minute goal from the head of Matt Godden following a brilliant Marcus Maddison cross was more decisive. Taking the lead against a side who had lost to a 10-man Walsall team and had been thrashed at out of sorts Pompey in their two previous outings might well have led to a different outcome, but that’s guesswork. A defence that looks suspect no matter how many centre-backs they field would presumably have been put under pressure far more quickly with no real expectation of survival. Once Bradford decided to play higher up the pitch after the break Posh struggled, although conceding three poor goals in the final 20 minutes against this opposition was as surprising as it was worrying.
The straw-clutching Posh fans will point to a new manager bounce (while ignoring the fact that Posh only beat the old boss in three attempts thanks to a penalty shootout) and while it’s true Bradford’s new leader Gary Bowyer’s arrival lifted much of the gloom over Valley Parade he was still in charge of a poor side playing poorly. Bowyer is trying to put smiles on his players’ faces and even post-match he appeared to be playing mind games with his own squad.
“Peterborough are a fantastic team with great attacking players,” Bowyer announced in a blatant piece of confidence-boosting exaggeration. Lord knows how Bowyer will describe table-topping Luton when they pitch up in Yorkshire on Tuesday.
Posh boss Darren Ferguson has a more realistic view of the talent at his disposal. On many occasions yesterday Ferguson turned away from the pitch in apparent disgust at simple passes going astray, of crosses being rushed into a Bradford penalty area populated only by Godden wearing blue, of Marcus Maddison’s hopeless set pieces and of unsuccessful high-tariff ‘Hollywood’ passes rather than simple ones.
Once Jacob Butterfield had struck the crossbar from a 20-yard free kick Posh bossed possession in the first-half without creating anything of note. In the second-half they enjoyed just a couple of minutes of pressure as Daniel Lafferty and Maddison forced decent saves from home ‘keeper Richard O’Donnell, ironically just before Butterfield, from 20 yards, Eoin Doyle and Lewis O’Brien found the same corner of Posh ‘keeper Conor O’Malley’s net within 15 crazy minutes. Maddison’s excellent penalty following a highly contentious decision was a last-minute consolation.
Posh had actually crept into the top six of the in-play League One table for a few minutes as dodgy Donny fell behind at rock bottom Wimbledon, but Grant McCann’s past and present teams are consistently offering hope to those in pursuit - not that any of them seem remotely interested in post-season fun.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Jason Naismith (sub Ivan Toney, 73 mins), Ben White, Ryan Tafazolli, Joe Ward, Daniel Lafferty, Alex Woodyard (sub George Cooper, 73 mins), Callum Cooke, Lee Tomlin, Marcus Maddison, Matt Godden.
Unused substitutes: Aaron Chapman, Louis Reed, Tyler Denton, Matt Stevens, Rhys Bennett.
Bradford: Richard O’Donnell, Kelvin Mellor (sub Paul Caddis, 38 mins), Anthony O’Connor, Nat Knight-Percival, Jacob Butterfield, Hope Akpan, Calum Woods (sub Adam Chicksen, 45 mins), Jermaine Anderson, Lewis O’Brien, David Ball (sub Billy Clarke, 90 mins), Eoin Doyle.
Unused substitutes: Ben Wilson, Jack Payne, George Miller, Jake Maltby.
Goals: Posh - Maddison (pen, 88 mins).
City - Butterfield (70 mins), Doyle (84 mins), O’Brien (86 mins).
Cautions: City - Caddis (foul), Ball (foul).
Posh - Cooper (foul).
Referee: Matthew Donohoe 6.
Attendance: 15,890 (Posh to follow).