POSH REPORT: Peterborough United 0, Bradford City 4: One bad defeat doesn’t kill a season

Peterborough United manager Graham Westley and assistant manager Grant McCann cut dejected figures. Picture: Joe Dent
Peterborough United manager Graham Westley and assistant manager Grant McCann cut dejected figures. Picture: Joe Dent
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This is perhaps a time for calm reflection rather than heat-of-the-moment condemnation.

Yes, Peterborough United were as poor as the final scoreline suggested as too many players, hamstrung no doubt by some baffling managerial deceisions made before and during the game, performed poorly yesterday (February 13), but there were enough mitigating circumstances to give them a last free pass of the season.

Shaquile Coulthirst of Peterborough United gets away from Bradford City's Reece Burke. Picture: Joe Dent

Shaquile Coulthirst of Peterborough United gets away from Bradford City's Reece Burke. Picture: Joe Dent

It had been a tumultuous week for the men from the ABAX Stadium. They performed heroically in difficult circumstances at Chesterfield last weekend and again in defeat in the FA Cup on Wednesday (February 10). Sadly they had nothing left in the tank to combat a well-drilled and effervescent Bradford side and thus suffered their heaviest Football League defeat for almost six years.

Posh boss Graham Westley was quick to deliver his mea culpa, admitting he didn’t go anywhere near far enough with his intention to freshen the side up. He made just three changes to his starting line-up from three days earlier, while Bradford made six changes and they hadn’t playted for a week.

Words like ‘embarrassed’, ‘humiliating’ and ‘shambles’ were apparently uttered by senior Posh players as they trudged back into the dressing room - stronger words were spoken in the spiteful world of social media, possbly by many of those fans who disappointingly deserted their team as soon as the third Bradford goal went in 20 minutes from time. Before kick-off Posh had already lost 5,000 fans compared to their previous home game.

But Westley was copping most flak. He even indulged in some verbal self-abuse as he surveyed the wreckage of a dismal afternoon.

Now the latest Posh boss things deeply about football. He no doubt planned meticulously for this match as he sought to find the edge a tired team would need to complete a great week for the club. Westley was hailed for his not-so-obvious team selection ahead of the West Brom FA Cup tie, but, as he said himself after the game, he got this one ‘massively wrong’.

Even to the layman it looked a strange starting line-up. Even to the few football fans who don’t regard themselves as tactical geniuses, the switches he made as the game wore on to an inevitable conclusion were hard to understand.

Westley’s charge sheet included:

1) Staring with centre-back Gaby Zakuani, who, before playing 120 minutes on Wednesday, had played 15 competitive minutes in the previous three months following a serious operation. It was fanciful at best to believe he would cope with imposing, and on this day, very impressive Bradford City centre-forward James Hanson.

2) Michael Bostwick has been the club’s best central defender this season so why start him at the base of a midfield diamond and leave the natural in that position, Chris Forrester, the team’s best player, on the bench for 45 minutes? A strong defensive unit was imperative if there was any chance (which there clearly was) of the attacking tempo slowing down. Forrester has been on the go for an awful long time thanks to the dates of the Irish League season and needs a rest, but Posh now have a seven-day break before returning to action.

3) Posh have signed a left-back on loan with a terrific pedigree at League One level, yet Harry Toffolo was left on the bench in favour of Andrew Fox and then Marcus Maddison. Fox apparently ran 10 miles against West Brom so fatigue was always likely and when he was hooked after just 30 minutes the introduction of an attacker like Maddison was surprising, Maddison can play left-back against poor sides when domination of the ball can almost be guaranteed, but that wasn’t ever the case in this game.

4) Jack Baldwin wasn’t passing the ball well from the centre-back position (he was however making numerous clearances after Bradford carved Posh open regularly on the left) so why move him into central midfield and expect him to pass the ball better from there? It was still 0-0 at the time, but already obvious that things weren’t going to plan, so why not send Forrester on then and take one of the centre-backs off to try and get the passing game going?

5) Posh almost made it to half-time on level terms, but at just 1-0 down there was still all to play for in the second-half. Westley sent on Forrester (for a very tired-looking teenager Martin Samuelsen) which was good, but kept his three centre-backs on, moved Baldwin to right-back and right-back Michael Smith to midfield. To be fair Posh improved briefly and full debutant Adil Nabi and Jon Taylor were denied a 46th-minute equaliser by stunning close-range saves/blocks by visiting goalkeeper Ben Williams and defender Stephen Darby, but a second Bradford goal just before the hour mark killed Posh off. While Baldwin laboured in a full-back position and full-back Smith ran around a lot to little effect in central areas, play-maker Erhun Oztumer sat twiddling his thumbs on the bench.

Westley should of course still be heavily in credit in the bank with the bulk of the Posh support. The fact he accepts wrong-doing suggests he won’t be repeating errors, but another bad day at the office at in-form Millwall next Saturday (February 20) could leave Posh with too much to do to finish in the top six of a very average competition.

Current form is poor, Posh have collected hust 11 points from a possible 30 in their last 10 League One outings (six of those points arrived from struggling Chesterfield) and ‘The Entertainers’ have now not scored in their last three League One home matches.

Apart from the 46th minute scramble in from of Williams’ goal they never looked likely to break that barren run until Nabi’s 90th minute free-kick forced the Bradford ‘keeper to make a flying save.

In contrast a Bradford side not renowned for the quality of their attacking play or their goal-scoring ability (before yesterday only three League One teams had scored fewer goals) became more threatening with each passing minute.

Lee Evans and Wes Thomas missed presentable opportunities before Hanson celebrated his 300th Bantams’ appearance by stopping low to skilfully divert Kyel Reid’s cross into the corner of the net in the 45th minute.

Reid, who was the game’s best player, struck the second goal from the edge of the penalty area after the Posh defence had parted in front of him in the 56th minute and Hanson pounched on a perfect chip to glance home number three in the 68th minute.

Visiting substitute Steven Davies guided hom a fourth goal 13 minutes from time after Tony McMahon had been given all the time he required to shoot at goal from 20 yards.

That completed a first win in 15 Football League visits to London Road for Bradford and the heaviest home defeat in the league for Posh since November 2010 when Charlton thrashed Gary Johnson’s side 5-1.

Bantams boss Phil Parkinson was Charlton’s manager that day, but it was Posh who went on to win promotion to prove one bad defeat and one terrible performance doesn’t necessarily mean all hope should be abandoned,

Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith, Andrew Fox (sub Marcus Maddison, 32 mins), Jack Baldwin, Gaby Zakuani (sub Lee Angol, 70 mins), Michael Bostwick, Jon Taylor, Martin Samuelsen (sub Chris Forrester, 46 mins), Adil Nabi, Tom Nichols, Shaquile Coulthirst. Unused substitutes: Erhun Oztumer, Dion-Curtis Henry, Ricardo Santos, Harry Toffolo.

Bradford City: Ben Williams, Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Reece Burke, James Meredith, Tony McMahon, Kyel Reid (sub Mark Marshall, 83 mins), Lee Evans, Josh Cullen, Wes Thomas (sub Stephen Davies, 73 mins), James Hansen (sub Jamie Proctor, 90 mins). Unused substitutes: Joe Cracknell, Nathan Clarke, Billy Knott, Josh Morris.

Goals: Bradford - Hanson (45 mins & 68 mins), Reid (56 mins), Davies (77 mins).

Cautions: Posh - Baldwin (foul), Zakuani (foul).

Referee: Dean Whitestone 5

Attendance: 5,816 (593 Bradford).