Peterborough United chairman Darragh MacAnthony is currently seeking guidance from the club’s fans on Twitter about the issues of the day.
His attempt to get trolls to use polls started last night (February 16) on the topic of ‘attractive football or winning at all costs.’ The latter viewpoint took an early lead, although one rather hopes Posh fans would draw the line at the underhand tactics accepted by other League One clubs recently.
Even the best teams win ugly at times. Indeed it’s an important habit to have. It’s what many of us expected to see regularly when Steve Evans arrived as Posh boss 12 months ago. With Darren Ferguson at the helm expectations regarding style and method have changed and no surprise that the new boss greeted the first win of his third spell in charge of the club with mixed feelings.
Of course he was thrilled that a beleagured team lacking in confidence could achieve something three of the current top four in League One failed to do in 2019 and take three points from the Kassam Stadium. But Ferguson wasn’t fooled into thinking a worrying slump is over, even after looking at the friendly fixtures on the horizon.
Did Posh play well? Not at all, although a scruffy playing surface bamboozled both teams. Did they pass the ball anywhere as well as Fergie’s vintage Posh teams of the past? That’s also an emphatic no, but then the change from 4-4-2 to a midfield diamond was never going to be without teething troubles. Joe Ward, arguably the player of the first half of the season, is one of those struggling to learn new tricks.
But, and it’s an important but, these Posh players don’t half work hard. Evans assembled a bunch of triers at least and commitment and spirit was much in evidence against an Oxford side who slipped back into the bottom four with this defeat.
If Posh can stay in games they have players capable of creating chances out of nothing. Ferguson’s ability to get Marcus Maddison and Lee Tomlin playing effectively together will go a long way to determining whether or not Posh achieve their first top six finish since the current boss was last at the club eight years ago.
“I have so much attacking talent at the club I face difficult decisions regrading selection every week,” Ferguson stated after his side had closed the gap on the last play-off place to a single point.
His narrow midfield diamond restricts attacking selection. Tomlin, even though he has produced very little since his fanfare-inducing return to the club, was surprisingly left on the substitutes’ bench until the final 30 minutes yesterday and then his input was negligible.
That left maddening talent Marcus Maddison - booked unfairly for simulation yesterday - to provide the quality. A first half free kick should have been headed home by Ivan Toney, but the pair combined with match-winning effect 15 minutes from time when Maddison’s quick thinking at a set-piece near halfway and Toney’s movement caught Oxford’s back four napping. The finish was very Aaron Mclean-like, the very person introduced to the coaching staff this month to work with the strikers.
Toney now has 19 goals this term, but only two in League One this year. If he can stay away from personal fueds and keep on his feet more often he could well finish close to Jack Marriott’s 2017-18 haul of Posh goals.
Posh created very little from open play with Jason Naismith’s thump against a post in the early stages the highlight, but the Posh back four, despite the odd jittery moment, restricted Oxford to a couple of decent long shots well handled by Posh ‘keeper Conor O’Malley and first-half chances for Cameron Brannagan and James Henry which missed the target.
Ryan Tafazolli was another surprise occupant of the substitutes’ bench, but he was a dominant figure at the back once Josh Knight’s Posh debut had been interrupted by an early ankle injury.
Posh are still outsiders for a top six as Doncaster have games in hand as well as a more established, and effective, free-scoring playing style, but Charlton’s lack of goals means the four-point gap to them in fifth could be bridged quickly if Ferguson’s men can turn one scrappy win into some much-needed momentum.
As for MacAnthony, his polls will make for interesting ready. The loose-cannon ‘fan’ who was proudly displaying his ‘Dmac out’ sign before the game will presumably take part.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Jason Naismith, Daniel Lafferty (sub Rhys Bennett, 71 mins), Josh Knight (sub Ryan Tafazolli, 22 mins), Ben White, Alex Woodyard, Kyle Dempsey, Joe Ward, George Cooper (sub Lee Tomlin, 59 mins), Marcus Maddison, Ivan Toney.
Unused substitutes: Aaron Chapman, Louis Reed, Matt Godden, Matt Stevens.
Oxford: Simon Eastwood, Rob Dickie, Curtis Nelson, Jamie Hanson, John Mousinho (sub Samir Carruthers, 79 mins), Cameron Brannagan, Josh Ruffels, Jordan Graham, James Henry (sub Marcus Browne, 69 mins), Gavin Whyte, Jerome Sinclair (sub Jamie Mackie, 69 mins).
Unused substitutes: Jack Stevens, Sam Long, Ahmed Kashi, Nico Jones.
Goals: Posh - Toney (76 mins).
Cautions: Posh - White (foul), Maddison (simulation), Woodyard (foul).
Oxford - Hanson (foul), Dickie (foul), Browne (foul).
Referee: Ross Joyce 5
Attendance: 6,451 (490 Posh).