League 1 report: The excitement and anticipation lasted for less than 20 minutes.
The return of ‘The Mac Attack’, the surprise selection of star man Marcus Maddison and a recall for an international centre-back all suggested better times for Posh. Home fans probably approached the newly-named ABAX Stadium tonight (November 28) with a hop, skip and a jump.
If they did, they were soon sat motionless and expressionless as visitors Bristol City scored twice in the first 17 minutes. After 25 minutes those home fans sitting in the Motorpoint Stand tried to rally their team with a chorus of ‘stand up if you love the Posh’, but after an hour those left in the London Road End were singing about staying up - and they didn’t seem to believe it.
Make no mistake this is a full-blown club crisis. Things are now so bad Posh were over-taken by a team that didn’t even play tonight and by the end of the weekend they could even drop below newly-promoted sides Fleetwood and Chesterfield.
And there is no obvious end to the slump in sight. Erhun Oztumer came on and played quite well for the final quarter of the game, but by then City were 3-0 ahead and on cruise control.
Posh boss Darren Ferguson admitted afterwards that a run of one point in six League One matches (and that was a 0-0 draw that saw no Posh shots on target) puts his job at risk, even from a chairman who has shown the sort backing for him that Peter Boizot, bafflingly to many, used to show to Barry Fry.
Ferguson insists he will fight on, but to survive he will surely first have to instil some fight into this team. Losing is more easily tolerated by the sensible supporters as long as effort, desire and determination is on show, but this was at times, even given the excellence of the opposition, a pitiful performance. From the first whistle Posh made virtually no tackles, picked up no loose balls, and looked ropey at the back and rusty up front.
This ABAX Stadium surface is not easy to play on, but give decent players enough time and space and they will manage. A City side wounded by successive 1-0 defeats were fired up, but they were surely surprised at how easy Posh made it for them.
City deployed their usual 3-5-2 system which proved far more effective than Ferguson’s 4-4-2. After 25 minutes Posh copied their visitors, but by then the horse had effectively bolted with two goals and three points.
City were rampant from the start. Swindon’s passing was easy on the eye last week, but City were just as accurate and twice as fast. In contrast the only imaginative passes played by Posh went backwards 40 yards in the direction of goalkeeper Ben Alnwick.
Ironically City took the lead through Posh carelessness rather than their own excellence. It took a poor pass from Jermaine Anderson and some poor control from Jack Payne to enable Luke Freeman to finish expertly following a long run from former Posh player Mark Little in the 11th minute.
Brilliant wing-play from Joe Bryan then enabled Aaron Wilbraham to head home at the far post for 2-0 after 17 minutes and it took a couple of smart stops from Alnwick to keep Posh in touch before Marlon Pack rattled the top of the crossbar with a terrific 25-yard volley.
Posh did rally in the final 15 minutes of the half even though Maddison, Mackail-Smith and Mclean laboured rather badly. It was quite sad to see the starts of yesteryear struggle so badly. They didn’t fire a shot at goal between them until Mclean’s second-half swerver that went out for a throw-in.
Mclean did at least put a shift in, but he failed to link up threateningly once with his partner. Maddison, who didn’t look fit, rarely tried to link up with anyone, while Gaby Zakuani’s return to the side was a huge disappointment which would have become a complete disaster had Wilbraham taken advantage of one woeful second-half backpass.
Indeed, as has often been the case in recent weeks, Joe Newell offered the most attacking threat before the break. He might have got a shot away through after fine work from Anderson and Mackail-Smith before a fine tackle stopped in him in his tracks, but he at least tried to be pro-active.
Posh of course have staged many a second-half comeback with the ‘Mac Attack’ in situ, but sadly four years have passed since they last combined for a goal and, as hard as they tried, Mclean in particular, they couldn’t influence the game.
City took their foot off the pedal after the break, but still dominated with ease. Freeman added his second goal in the 64th minute from 20 yards as Posh stood and watched. Wilbraham hooked over an open goal in the final minute after Alnwick had dropped Little’s cross under heavy pressure.
Little was by far the most effective of the returning Posh stars. His attacking skills suit City’s expansive style and he was defensively astute enough to keep Newell in check throughout the second-half. Mackail-Smith’s 100th Posh goal won’t arrive until the service as well as his own close control improves.
And just to make it a real Black Friday, Posh’s current impotence was beamed live to the nation with a grinning MK Dons manager Karl Robinson on the TV gantry in the main stand. It’s hard to understand why he was smiling though as Posh are not likely to be rivals to his team this season, not even for the play-offs.
City’s ability - and they moved four points clear at the top after this win - means in all probability only one automatic promotion place is available. That should be of greater concern to Robinson as he seeks his first tangible success in the sport.
Posh certainly won’t be involved in any promotion race and all eyes in this city for the next week at least will be on chairman Darragh MacAnthony’s Twitter account. He kept any Posh criticism to himself after this game, apart from a blast at the Peterborough-reared actor who played D’Artagnon in the BBC production of the Three Musketeers earlier this year.
MacAnthony described him a ‘D’ list actor. It will be interesting to see if the Posh chairman maintains his own ‘all-for-one, one-for-all’ policy as far as his management staff is concerned.
Reaction: At risk Ferguson determined to fight on
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith, Kgosi Ntlhe, Gaby Zakuani, Christian Burgess, Jack Payne (sub Michael Bostwick, 58 mins), Jermaine Anderson (sub Harry Beautyman (58 mins), Marcus Maddison (sub Erhun Oztumer, 65 mins), Joe Newell, Craig Mackail-Smith, Aaron Mclean. Unused substitutes: Joe Day, Conor Washington, Kyle Vassell, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.
Player ratings: Posh weren’t good enough to be at sixes and sevens
Bristol City: Frank Fielding, Mark Little (sub Todd Kane, 90 + 2 mins), Joe Bryan, Luke Ayling, Aden Flint, Derrick Williams, Marlon Pack, Luke Freeman (sub Scott Wagstaff, 83 mins), Korey Smith, Aaron Wilbraham, Kieran Agard (sub Matt Smith, 83 mins).
Unused substitutes: Dave Richards, Karleigh Osborne, TGreg Cunningham, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.
Goals: City - Freeman (11 mins & 64 mins), Wilbraham (17 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Zakuani (dissent)
Referee: Paul Tierney
Attendance: 6,804 (422)