Some defeats hurt more than others. This was like receiving a cricket ball in the nether regions, a smack in the face from Anthony Joshua.
Peterborough United, who had played with 10 men for 50 minutes following Chris Forrester’s dismissal, were minutes away from securing a creditable point at play-off chasing Barnsley when they were pole-axed in soft, yet dramatic circumstances. The home side’s last desperate act led to a tame header from George Williams somehow squirming past Posh goalkeeper Ben Alnwick into the corner of the net.
There was both anguish and shock as Alnwick had been on the way to a second successive man-of-the-match display. Such is the life of a goalkeeper, one miserable error will be remembered long after the Gordon Banks v Pele-style save to thwart Marc Roberts’ header from a corner towards the end of the first-half.
In truth Posh were poor before Forrester’s red card following a spat with Barnsley play-maker (or should that be play-actor?) Conor Hourihane five minutes before the break. That one decision from referee Michael Bull actually led directly to the positives manager Graham Westley managed to take from another Tuesday tale of woe for his side.
Nine Tuesday games in League One this season have yielded one fortunate win and eight defeats, but Posh did play with great spirit and defensive excellence in the second-half when the odds had been stacked against them. It was however optimistic in the extreme to suggest that Posh would have won if they’d kept 11 men on the pitch, or if Bull had refereed with any sort of competence or even-handedness.
Jonathan Moss set the bar pretty low for referees last weekend, but Bull was able to limbo under it with ease last night thanks to his random foul detection, his ability to miss obvious offences played out right under his nose and his erratic use of the yellow card.
He showed two yellows to Forrester in the space of five seconds in a very messy incident in which Bull and his busy co-horts on the touchline and in the technical area managed to miss Hourihane treading twice on the Posh midfielder’s toes (it wasn’t missed by a Posh official with a photo-grabbing phone high in the stands) in a clear act of provocation.
Forrester will learn not to react to smirking, sneaky foes in the future, but Westley was clearly incensed that Hourihane picked up just a caution for his part in the incident. A role that also involved a theatrical fall to the ground. Posh will also remember this referee from the Millwall game earlier this year when Forrester was side-lined for three weeks by a horrible challenge that Bull didn’t even see as a foul.
Bull apparently retires at the end of this season. He shouldn’t expect too many ‘best wishes’ from the ABAX Stadium. He even sent Westley off in added time, presumably for an act of dissent. The Posh boss had shown his frustration at Bull earlier in the half by shouting ‘hallelujah’ and throwing his arms in the air after his side had been awarded a rare free kick.
Westley even tried to pin the blame for Alnwick’s last-gasp blunder on Bull by claiming his concentration had been broken by a deserved yellow card for time-wasting minutes earlier. That was stretching frustration too far, but it (the goal not the card) was a cruel moment for a player who has kept goal for Barnsley in the past.
Posh, who fielded Jack Baldwin at right-back and Ricardo Santos at centre-back, and replaced Aaron Williams with Shaquile Coulthirst up top, struggled from the start. It was the 14th minute before home ‘keeper Adam Davies touched the ball and that was to take a goal-kick after Coulthirst had glanced Marcus Maddison’s corner wide of a post.
Posh persisted with the slow build-up from the back which rarely leads to anything but a hoofed, rushed clearance from the goalkeeper these days. A poor playing surface was of little help to either side in a match that lacked quality or technical ability.
Barnsley dominated the ball, but their attacks were scruffy and lacking in cohesion. They were at the best either side of Forrester’s red card in the 10 minutes before the interval when Alnwick did well to divert a deflected Adam Hammill effort past his post before producing his stunning stop from Roberts.
Alnwick also saved well from Sam Winnall and Hammill again before the break and then kept out a terrific Winnall volley in the early stages of the second-half. Westley had sent on Gaby Zakuani to partner Santos at the heart of the defence at half-time and moved Michael Bostwick into Forrester’s defensive midfield role - all three were so good Barnsley ran out of attacking ideas well before the end.
The final 20 minutes were spent by Barnsley players dribbling unsuccessfully into a crowded penalty area or shooting from extravagant positions some distance from Alnwick’s goal. The long throw - the last resort of the desperate - was also employed regularly, but most were met by Zakuani’s head.
Including one at the start of added time that was promptlyy returned into the area for Williams to grab his first professional goal. Barnsley players set off in wild celebration, while Posh players looked forlorn.
They’d given their all in the second-half, but that only included rare forays into the opposition half led by the pace of Jon Taylor and Coulthirst. Maddison, and the best chance of causing a comfortable defence any problems at all, had been sacrificed in the half-time re-shuffle.
Taylor forced Davies into his only save of the night, while Bostwick lumbered forward to whistle a 25-yarder just past a post 15 minutes from time.
It was a desperately poor attacking return which shouldn’t be forgotten completely in the desire and rush to lambast a quite dreadful referee.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Jack Baldwin, Andrew Fox, Ricardo Santos, Michael Bostwick, Chris Forrester, Harry Beautyman, Jon Taylor, Erhun Oztumer (sub Gaby Zakuani, 46 mins), Marcus Maddison (sub Lee Angol, 46 mins), Shaquile Coulthirst. Unused substitutes: Aaron Williams, Mark Tyler, Martin Samuelsen, Leo Da Silva Lopes, Adil Nabi.
Barnsley: Adam Davies, Marc Roberts, Ryan Williams, Alfie Mawson, Josh Scowan, Conor Hourihane, John Brownhill, Adam Hammill, Lloyd Isgrove (sub Harry Chapman, 65 mins), Sam Winnall, Ivan Toney (sub Ashley Fletcher, 60 mins). Unused substitutes: Nick Townsend, Lewin Nyatanga, Jak McCourt, Otis Khan, Shaun Tuton.
oals: Barnsley - Williams, (90 + 1 min)
Sending off: Posh - Forrester (second yellow card).
Cautions: Posh - Forrester (foul), Zakuani (foul), Alnwick (time wasting)
Barnsley - Hourihane (unsportsmanlike conduct).
Referee: Michael Bull 4
Attendance: 8,886 (226 Posh).