This was a big game for Peterborough United midfielder Chris Forrester.
The Irish press today (January 16) sent their main men to run the rule over a play-maker in fantastic form, with a £3 million price tag around his neck, and outside hopes of an appearance in the 2016 Euros. Forrester promptly made the headlines, but not in a way he would have wanted. His 97th-minute penalty was so weakly struck, Southend goalkeeper Dan Bentley had time to pull his socks up and straighten his hair before falling on the ball and preserving a 0-0 draw for his side.
Forrester had apparently ‘won’ the right to stand-in for absent Posh penalty-smasher Michael Bostwick in a squad competition held in training. As suitable and realistic preparations go, it was like asking Tim Peake to practice his space walk at the top of the Motorpoint Stand. The pressure from 12 yards with the game on the line against the best goalkeeper in League One must have felt slightly different to performing in front of your mates on an otherwise deserted training ground..
Still, at least Forrester had the bottle to take his shot at glory. And his form since donning the blue of Posh has been so good, one mishap won’t be held against him, no matter how crucial. His failure probably also meant a second meltdown in two weeks from highly-strung Southend boss Phil Brown was avoided.
Brown’s reaction to a third straight loss the previous weekend was to rant at his players for two hours behind closed doors in the dressing room. He presumably turned even redder than normal when Posh substitute Marcus Maddison’s theatrical tumble (one that arrived just too late for an Oscar nomination) under challenge from Adam Thompson was deemed to be a penalty by assistant referee Matthew Buonassisi.
Buoanassi went through an entire semaphore set before the spot-kick was confirmed. But justice was, for once, seen to be done by Bentley, not just in that one highly-suspect incident, but for the game as a whole. A goalless draw was about right after an uninspiring 90 minutes which was affected adversely as a spectacle by Southend’s understandable reluctance to stop a rot, and Posh’s failure to get anywhere near their own recent high standards.
Southend had conceded 11 goals in those three recent defeats so their gameplan involving five defenders and Tyrone Barnett up top on his own shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Maybe their dogged determination and excellent defensive organisation was more of a shock. Certainly their ferocity in the tackle in a crowded midfield and their refusal to allow any space behind for free-scoring Conor Washington to exploit completely neutered Posh as an attacking force.
Erhun Oztumer’s seventh-minute strike from distance wobbled in the air, but was expertly palmed away by Bentley and that was pretty much that in the first-half for Posh until Lee Angol escaped down the right and sent in a low cross for Washington that was expertly defended by Cain Bolger.
Otherwise the Posh build-up was horribly laboured and far too often involved 50-yard backward passes, Martin Samuelsen, so fresh and inventive a week before, was hustled out of his stride and a simple tactic of stopping Posh ‘keeper Ben Alnwick from taking short goal-kicks seemed to completely bemuse those charged with building from the back.
Posh also miss the darting thrusts down the left flank of Callum Elder. Lawrie Wilson is a decent pro, but he is too right-footed to play effectively on the left flank. With Southend’s reluctance to attack, this might have been a good day to use Maddison in the left-back slot.
Barnett saw a header from a corner palmed away by a retreating Alnwick in the first-half and sidefooted over the bar from 10 yards, 10 minutes from time and 10 seconds before he was substituted. Jack Payne, whose rather pathetic dive in the first-half went unpunished by the referee and unremarked upon by Brown, missed Southend’s best opportunity 15 minutes from time after latching onto Ryan Leonard’s pass and racing clear.
Posh were at their most fluent in the opening 10 minutes of the second-half, doubtless stung into action by eloquent Posh manager Graham Westley. Angol’s header from a Michael Smith cross was palmed away by Bentley and Washington’s attempt to ram home the rebound was thwarted by a brave defensive block. Washington then wriggled free before smashing a fierce shot towards the top corner from the edge of the penalty area, but Bentley was again in the way.
As usual Westley found the right words to desctribe his team’s efforts in his post-match de-brief. ‘Lacklustre’, ‘apologetic’ and ‘intimidated’ all received an airing after Posh failed to score at home for the first time this season and for 18 matches stretching back to last April.
Posh don’t even have their proud status of top scorers in the Football League to fall back on. That honour now belongs to Gillingham which is where Posh must go next (January 23) as they try to stave off the chasing pack for the final League One play-off place.
Westley remains confident Posh will respond well. Certainly, in theory at least, they should have more space in which to work, so if Jack Baldwin can continue his defensive excellence, they will travel to Priestfield with hope and expectation in equal measures.
It might also be a good idea to find a more productive routine from corners, rather than the repetitive routine of recent games which involves resisting all temptation to put the ball into the opposition penalty area.
Posh: Ben Alnwick; Michael Smith, Lawrie Wilson (sub Kgosi Ntlhe, 74 mins), Ricardo Santos, Jack Baldwin, Chris Forrester, Harry Beautyman (sub, Jon Taylor, 62 mins), Erhun Oztumer, Martin Samuelsen, Conor Washington, Lee Angol (sub Marcus Maddison, 68 mins). Unused substitutes: Souleymane Coulibaly, Jordan Nicholson, Dion-Curtis Henry, Miles Addison:
Southend: Daniel Bentley, Adam Thompson, Cian Bolger, Adam Barrett, Stephen Hendrie, Jack Payne (sub David Mooney, 90 mins), Will Atkinson, Ryan Leonard, Luke O’Neill, Gary Deegan, Tyrone Barnett (sub Noel Hunt, 82 mins). Unused substitutes: Ted Smith, Dave Worrall, Michael Timlin, Kevan Hurst, Harry Kipriani.
Cautions: Southend - Bolger (foul), Hendrie (foul).
Referee: Kevin Johnson 5.
Attendance: 7,057 (959 Southend).