Championship match report: Peterborough United twitter king Gaby Zakuani summed it up best in one of his post-match utterings. “Never seen so many police at a game,” he tweeted. “And yet they couldn’t stop a blatant robbery.”
It was an understandable gripe given that it took ‘mighty’ Leeds 96 minutes to kill off a Posh team who’d played with 10 men for almost 60 of them, but identifying the villain at the heart of the crime proved rather more taxing.
Outspoken Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony pointed the finger of blame at a truly abysmal display from referee Keith Stroud who capped an inconsistent, error-strewn, petty performance by delaying the final whistle until Leeds had poached their last-gasp winner.
Match details: Championship match at London Road, 22 October 2011
GOALS: Posh – Zakuani (23 mins), Little (88 mins).
Leeds – Keogh (4 mins), Clayton (54 mins), O’Dea (90 mins).
SENDING OFF: Posh – Tomlin (serious foul play).
CAUTIONS: Posh – Frecklington (foul), McCann (deliberate handball), O’Dea (foul), Leeds – Sam (foul), O’Dea (foul).
REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Dorset) 4
ATTENDANCE: 12,880 (4,236 Leeds)
Posh boss Darren Ferguson agreed with the sentiment, but also shook his head at the antics of his own forward Lee Tomlin, who let frustration at Stroud’s antics persuade him into launching a terrible lunge at Leeds striker Andy Keogh.
That one moment of red-card mist was more decisive than the soft free-kick awarded two minutes after the final whistle should have been blown which enabled centre-back Darren O’Dea to convert a volley with the last Leeds kick of the match.
Tomlin will be punished with a club fine, but more expensive will be a reputation for exciting skills and great goals being replaced by one for acts of immature petulance.
Hopefully he will have already apologised to his team-mates because with his departure went all realistic chance of a win and a brief claim to be the second best team in the Championship.
That would have been a hugely optimistic claim anyway, but this Posh team would be among the favourites for promotion if spirit and commitment generated points.
It almost earned them one extra here as Mark Little’s 88th-minute poke past Leeds’ keeper Paul Rachubka after Ryan Bennett had headed Paul Jones’ long free-kick into his path looked to have secured an unlikely draw.
Posh had already recovered from the shock of falling behind to a sublime Keogh volley (Posh have conceded their fair share of quality goals this season) in the fourth minute to level through Zakuani’s header from a McCann corner.
Ferguson switched to a 4-4-1 formation at the break to combat Tomlin’s dismissal and added pace and power by introducing Ryan Tunnicliffe into midfield, but another fine strike from Adam Clayton, who looks to have improved markedly since his brief stay at London Road, saw Leeds back in front 10 minutes after the re-start.
That would have been that against better opposition, but Leeds rarely threatened again. Posh did occasionally, but only after Paul Taylor had replaced Emile Sinclair, a striker who has found the going tough in recent matches.
Taylor forced a tip round the post from the unconvincing Rachubka, while McCann fired a free-kick over the bar.
The game then appeared to be petering out in a final quarter which involved plenty of Leeds possession, but that’s always a dangerous assumption at a Posh match.
And of course poor referees and individual disgraces shouldn’t be used as complete excuses for a third home defeat in four Championship outings.
Posh still have a worrying habit of falling behind in matches, they still irritate by losing possession in dodgy areas and they still over-complicate some of their passing in midfield areas.
Opponents have started to pay Posh the compliment of matching their diamond formation meaning space is at a premium and passes have to be extremely precise to be effective.
That wasn’t often the case when it was 11 v 11 as the two half-chances Posh created arrived courtesy of defensive errors as first Little robbed Aidan White before crossing just out of Tomlin’s reach and then George Boyd clipped the ball over the bar from Craig Alcock’s pull-back after Paul Connolly had lost possession.
In contrast Leeds opened Posh up straight after Zakuani’s equaliser, but Jones thwarted Keogh and on the stroke of half-time the keeper again did well to deny Ross McCormack after McCann’s slip had let Leeds in.
Ultimately it was to be heart-break for Posh, although most of them can feel pride rather than shame this morning.
Posh player ratings:
PAUL JONES 7
Keeps getting beaten by quality strikes, couple of good saves first half to keep Posh in touch
MARK LITTLE 7
Looked to have saved the day with first league goal, tough opponent in the speedy White
CRAIG ALCOCK 6
Defended solidly until his half-time withdrawal
RYAN BENNETT 8
Didn’t deserve to be on the losing side after a commanding display and goal assist
GABY ZAKUANI 7
Another display of total commitment topped by first goal of the season
GRANT McCANN 7
Lost possession in dangerous areas a couple of times, but always prompting and probing
LEE FRECKLINGTON 5
The Leeds fan didn’t have the best of games, lost possession too easily
TOMMY ROWE 6
Fine in central midfield and adequate at left-back
GEORGE BOYD 6
Excellent work-rate and commitment, not so good on the ball
LEE TOMLIN 4
Let his team-mates down with rash red card challenge
EMILE SINCLAIR 5
Played on the edge of the Leeds back four, but team-mates couldn’t find him
Ryan Tunnicliffe: (for Alcock, 46 mins)
Paul Taylor: (for Sinclair, 55 mins)
David Ball: (for Frecklington, 78 mins)
Josh Thompson: (not used)
Joe Lewis: (not used)