Championship match report: Football often kicks you in the teeth when you least expect it. Gaby Zakuani will doubtless concur with that after this crackerjack start to 2012.
The rock at the heart of this vastly-improved Posh defence had just accepted the plaudits for another man-of-the-match display when a wickedly bouncing ball caught him on the arm just inside the penalty area.
It was one of those 50-50 calls which this time went in Birmingham’s favour. Referee Jonathan Moss, the official who helped Posh to promotion with a dreadful spot-kick award in the League One play-off semi-final last season, again pointed to the spot and Marlon King kept his cool to slot home a 94th minute equaliser.
Match details: Championship match at London Road, 1 January 2012
Peterborough United 1,
Birmingham City 1
GOALS: Posh – Sinclair (1 min).
Birmingham – King (pen, 90 mins).
CAUTIONS: Posh – Rowe (foul).
Birmingham – Spector (foul).
REFEREE: Jonathan Moss 6
ATTENDANCE: 11,167 (2,560 Birmingham).
“If that’s a penalty there will be lots of them in future,” Posh boss Darren Ferguson insisted. “The ball has bounced up between Chris Wood and Gaby and hit Gaby on the arm. Ryan Tunnicliffe was in front of the referee, but he couldn’t wait to give it. In fact he nearly gave it before the ball even struck Gaby.”
Ferguson’s anguish was understandable as his side had defended a lead quite brilliantly for 93 minutes.
Birmingham could claim to have deserved an equaliser because of their dominance of possession, but not on the quality of their play which was generally abysmal.
The timing of the equaliser was cruel on Posh who delivered an explosive start to the new year. The amount of time and space Emile Sinclair found as he accepted Joe Newell’s dinked pass suggested he was offside, but protests were muted and the finish unerring, once he’d dragged the ball from under his feet.
Tunicliffe’s clever turn was also a contributory factor to the early goal and the Manchester United loanee looked strong and fit on his return to action.
Birmingham looked shaky and short of pace at the back, but their response was positive and they could have scored three times in the opening 15 minutes.
King headed wide after Nikola Zigic had flicked on a long throw, Zigic then side-footed horribly wide from close range following King’s cut-back before Curtis Davies headed over from a corner when unopposed eight yards out.
The visitors, who had a horrible away record of two wins in 11 outings, continued to dominate possession, but their final cross, pass or shot was usually inaccurate. Crossing was a particular disappointment considering in Zigic they have the world’s tallest target man.
Surprisingly it was on the deck that the giant Serb tested Joe Lewis’s reflexes, but the Posh keeper reacted well to stop a low shot from Chris Burke’s cross with his legs.
It was much of the same after the interval, although Posh did break forward occasionally with Paul Taylor testing visiting keeper Boaz Myhill from 20 yards before fizzing another shot from distance just past an upright.
But in general play the ball was usually found heading in the direction of Lewis, although he was forced to make just one more quality save when diverting Keith Fahey’s 20-yard shot wide of goal.
Somehow Birmingham midfielder Guirane N’Daw headed a corner over the bar from inside two yards, but otherwise the visiting challenge appeared to be fizzing out, until one late, cruel bounce of the ball.
Posh players ratings:
JOE LEWIS 7
A high-class save in each half and calm assurance throughout
CRAIG ALCOCK 7
Never a hint of a mistake, either in his defensive work or in possession
TOMMY ROWE 7
Good athletic display at left-back from someone turning out to be a key man
RYAN BENNETT 7
The sort of all-round defensive excellence Posh fans have become accustomed to
GABY ZAKUANI 8
He’s a rock, full stop. Unlucky to concede a penalty for hand-ball
SCOTT WOOTTON 7
Broke up many Brum attacks, but he’s also a cultured player in possession
JOE NEWELL 7
Excellent shift from the youngster, can claim an assist on the goal
RYAN TUNNICLIFFE 7
Fine return to action from an all-action youngster, did well for opening goal
GEORGE BOYD 7
Buzzed about effectively and showed some flashes of quality
PAUL TAYLOR 7
Ran his heart out, a 90-minute nuisance and a couple of fine long range shots
EMILE SINCLAIR 7
Cool early finish capped a much improved effort
Danny Kearns: (for Newell. 75 mins)
Mark Little: (for Sinclair, 82 mins)
Josh Thompson: (not used)
Dan Lawlor: (not used)
Paul Jones: (not used)