Home form remains an unfathomable problem for Peterborough United.
It’s one win in seven League One matches at the ABAX Stadium for the team sitting in fourth after a 1-1 draw with troubled Bradford City and just 12 points from nine games (Luton have 23), and six of those arrived in the first two outings. That’s the 15th best record in League One - worse now than Oxford who have spent most of the season in the bottom four - and as impressive as Posh have been on the road so far, failing to find that winning formula in front of your own fans is crucial to any hope of long-term success. And that’s a statement of the bleedin’ obvious.
Yesterday (November 17) should have been the day those issues were forgotten. Bradford City wouldn’t have arrived at the ABAX amid so much turmoil if Theresa May had been steering the ship. Bottom of the table after six straight League One defeats, a manager struggling to get a tune out of some gifted players and a team reeling from a 4-0 capitulation at fellow strugglers Gillingham on their last road trip with points at stake.
And yet City could have won this game. They were bright and breezy in the opening stages, deservedly took the lead in the 11th minute, but promptly lost all ambition, pulled everyone behind the ball and decided frustration was the way forward. It almost worked, but once Posh substitute Ivan Toney equalised just past the hour, controversially according to the Bradford camp, the visitors came out of their shell and came as close to pinching a winning goal as their hosts. Not that close mind as neither ‘keeper was forced into meaningful action.
The visitors still celebrated their point with gusto, while Posh manager Steve Evans was delivering a rather grumpy post-match press conference.
Evans was riled at suggestions he started with the wrong team, a point of view hardened by a double substitution at half-time, but the manager felt let down by the quality his players produced, particularly from wide areas.
Both arguments had merit. As soon as it became clear City would protect their lead with a 9-0-1 formation it was fairly obvious, to us laymen at least, that sole striker Matt Godden would need help, either from Toney or a central midfielder getting into the penalty area as Mark O’Hara was achieving in the early part of the season. The crossing of the ball was pitiful from both flanks, although locating one small-ish striker among several defenders is not an easy skill. As a result City ‘keeper Richard O’Donnell had a week’s worth of unchallenged catching practice in one afternoon.
Posh have had their greatest success this season when able to play on the counter attack. Yesterday they were given unlimited possession for long spells in their opponents’ half, a fact that highlighted a major weakness in this squad. There is no Lee Tomlin or Grant McCann, players capable of unlocking a massed defence with a moment of magic. Instead Posh kept possession patiently before attempting passes that had little chance of success.
Marcus Maddison is the closest Posh have to a playmaker and it was no surprise that he delivered the splendid pass that found Toney through on goal, in an offside position according to the visitors. His delivery was decidely average otherwise though.
Toney’s goal should have sparked an onslaught on the visiting goal, but once Ryan Tafazolli had failed to reach the goal with a free header from a corner Posh became too frantic and made too many poor decisions.
Siriki Dembele was sent on with Toney at half-time and initially got Posh driving forward. The winger was up against a rusty full-back who had already been cautioned, but kept drifting inside. Toney, a big powerful forward, found it tough to stay in central areas, quite possibly because he became fed up waiting for a decent delivery.
The starting tactics didn’t work either. Evans shouldn’t be criticised for trying different formations in an attempt to halt the home hoodoo, but playing one up against a bad side was always going to attract attention if it failed. Posh last played a League One home match at home almost a month ago and they won it after starting with a lone striker, but crucially Posh didn’t fall behind and they weren’t playing a team scared to push forward.
Jamie Walker, the man playing closest to Godden, was given enough ball to make something happen, but when he wasn’t passing it off the pitch he ran into too many cul-de-sacs. The changes in personnel and formation could easily have been made much earlier than half-time.
Posh did work hard, but Evans wouldn’t be too pleased with how his back four performed when called into action. They looked hesitant throughout and goalkeeper Aaron Chapman had to bail out some weak tacklers twice before Anthony O’Connor opened the scoring as Posh missed a golden opportunity to close the gap on Sunderland who also surprisingly dropped points at home and to keep ahead of Barnsley who won well at Accrington.
A bumper crowd in excess of 8,000 watched the game, a number boosted by 1,000 first-time school-aged fans taking advantage of a rather brilliant Posh promotion. Winning is the best way of making sure they keep coming back.
Posh: Aaron Chapman, Jason Naismith (sub Siriki Dembele 46 mins), Tyler Denton, Rhys Bennett, Ryan Tafazolli, Alex Woodyard, Louis Reed, Joe Ward, Marcus Maddison, Jamie Walker (sub Ivan Toney, 46 mins), Matt Godden (sub Jason Cummings, 74 mins).
Unused substitutes: Mark Tyler, Mark O’Hara, George Cooper, Sebastien Bassong.
Bradford City: Richard O’Donnell, Nat Knight-Percival, Anthony O’Connor, Ryan McGowan, Adam Chicksen, Hope Akpan (sub James O’Brien, 62 mins), Lewis O’Brien, Paul Caddis, David Ball, Jack Payne, Eoin Doyle (sub George Miller, 71 mins).
Unused subs: Connor Wood, Daniel Devine, Thomas Isherwood, Josh Wright,
Goals: Posh - Toney (61 mins).
City - O’Connor (11 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Reed (foul).
City - Akpan (foul), Caddis (foul), L. O’Brien (foul), J. O’Brien (foul).
Referee: Scott Oldham 8
Attendance: 8,046 (715 Bradford City).