Well who would have thought little old Peterborough United would ever be disappointed with a point from a trip to mighty Sunderland?
It happened last night, although there should also have been a great sense of relief at a 2-2 draw, one earned by coming from behind twice and after a pretty ropey first-half performance when crucially Sunderland only scored once.
The home side were certainly ripe for the taking. They had one win in five League One matches coming into the game, they were without five regular starters, they played the final quarter of the match with 10 men and they had an accident-prone former Posh centre-back in the heart of their defence. It probably wasn’t the time to tinker with the formula that had delivered five away wins in a row at a rate of over three goals per victory.
Instead Posh boss Steve Evans gambled on catching Sunderland by surprise with a change in formation, sacrificing width for a congested central midfield and hoping Siriki Dembele’s fast feet would cause problems in central areas. The experiment lasted 45 minutes - about 25 minutes too long - before 4-4-2 was restored and with it the command and power of a team with a brilliant record on the road.
“I change formations quite regularly, you just don’t notice,” was Evans’ prickly response to the local press when questioned about his pre-game decision. “We changed things at Gilingham, but because we won 4-2 no-one said anything.
“It’s a system that we will use again when we’ve worked on it a bit more. Thier manager told me they were so worried about Siriki running at his defence in the opening stages they man marked him for 10 minutes. He didnd’t do himself justice after that, but the boy remains a great talent.”
All true of course. Some of us in the media are thrilled when we manage to identify the right goalscorer. Tactics may as well be small flavoured mints, but the time and space afforded to Sunderland’s full-backs looked a disaster waiting to happen even to the simpletons high in the stand. It doesn’t help of course when the players lose the ball so easily.
That Posh were able to rescue a point in the second half was as much to do with Sunderland’s poor quality in the final third. True, gifted teenager Josh Maja delivered a fine 21st-minute finish, but the hosts failed to work Posh ‘keeper Aaron Chapman often enough if at all with Aiden McGeady twice missing the target when well placed and Jerome Sinclair slicing horribly wide just before the break following Maja’s excellent backheel.
That miss proved costly. The presence of half-time substitutes Joe Ward and Marcus Maddison on the wings helped Posh going forward and stifled the fun full-backs Bryan Oviedo and Aidan Matthews enjoyed before the break. Oviedo’s frustration was such he booted Maddison so hard he received his marching orders from referee David Coote, an official whose recent promotion to the Premier League is rather laughable on last night’s evidence.
The red card was a no-brainer of a decision though and Oviedo’s actions hurt his teammates as much as Maddison. Sunderland still led at the time despite marked improvement from Posh and within a few minutes Ward had struck his first Posh goal from the edge of the penalty after assists from Maddison and home defender Jack Baldwin.
There then looked only one winner. Substitute Matt Godden immediately missed a golden opportunity before Posh self-destructed at the back enabling Sinclair to shoot the 10 men back in front. Fortunatly Maddison was on the pitch to deliver a trademark pass to Ivan Toney who finished expertly five minutes from time to secure a point.
Evans was still visibly irritated at the final whistle even though his side remain four points clear of a Sunderland side who are sure to improve and challenge for a top two spot.
Defensively his team are wilting which isn’t all the fault of a back four exposed by attacking formations. At least two goals have been shipped in the last six competitive matches and left-back Colin Daniel’s performances are coming under the most scrutiny.
Posh: Aaron Chapman, Jason Naismith, Colin Daniel, Rhys Bennett, Ryan Tafazolli, Alex Woodyard, Callum Cooke (sub Joe Ward, 46 mins), Mark O’Hara, Siriki Dembele (sub Marcus Maddison, 46 mins), Ivan Toney, Jason Cummings (sub Matt Godden, 73 mins).
Unused substitutes: Jamie Walker, Mark Tyler, Josh Yorwerth, Louis Reed.
Sunderland: Jon McLaughlin, Aidan Matthews, Bryan Oviedo, Tom Flanagan, Jack Baldwin, Dylan McGeouch, Max Power, Chris Maguire, Jerome Sinclair (sub Benjamin Mbunga-Kimioka, 90 mins), Aiden McGeady, Josh Maja (sub Reece James, 71 mins).
Unused substitutes: Robbin Ruiter, Alim Ozturk, Ethan Robson, Bali Mumba, Jack Diamond, .
Goals: Posh - Ward (74 mins), Toney (85 mins).
Sunderland - Maja (21 mins), Sinclair (80 mins).
Sending-off: Sunderland - Oviedo (violent conduct).
Cautions: Posh -Raynor (assistant manager, dissent), Toney (foul).
Sunderland - Power (foul).
Referee: David Coote 5
Attendance: 28,727 (672 Posh).