Tyrone Barnett’s pre-match claim that he expected a ‘mixed’ reaction on his return to the ABAX Stadium yesterday (December 12) provoked hoots of derision from those in the know.
The powerfully-built striker was Peterborough United’s first (and, so far, only) million-pound signing. He cost Posh about £100k a goal spread over three years. He reportedly showed more passion off the field than on it in that time so the only variable yesterday was the strength of the booing and jeering when he finally cantered on the pitch 20 minutes from time in his tight-fitting Shrewsbury shirt.
To be fair to the Posh fans, some of their own players have received more abuse than accompanied Barnett’s arrival. The sheer anger when Barnett scored the equalising goal 10 minutes from time was far more audible and that would have understandably delighted a 30-year-old who delivered dignified interviews both before and after the match.
Barnett played pretty well also. He was spotted heading dangerous set-piece deliveries out of his own area (he always was good at that) and he threatened to grab a winner after tricking his way past Callum Elder with great skill by the touchline, powering into the penalty area and smashing a shot at goal that thankfully went straight at Posh goalkeeper Ben Alnwick.
Alnwick held onto that one which is more than he did when Sulley Kaikai sent a dipping swerving shot at him from 20 yards away 10 minutes from time. Barnett won a race between three Shrewsbury players to tap into an unguarded net to give the visitors a point they thoroughly deserved.
It meant a surprising end to a six-game winning streak for Posh, but maybe it shouldn’t have come as that big a shock. Posh had hinted at home vulnerability in their two previous League One fixtures at the ABAX when strugglers Fleetwood and Barnsley had come close to leaving with a reward.
Shrewsbury were better organised defensively than those two teams. They were dogged, determined and they kept possession well when they had it. They dragged men behind the ball, but also attacked in great numbers. Alnwick’s error was a shame as he had been a man-of-the-match candidate for saving with his kness from Scott Vernon, by smothering a James Collins shot after a quickly-taken free-kick and for a fine low save to keep out Kaikai, all in the second-half when Posh performance levels dipped well below the last couple of weeks.
Posh boss Graham Westley suggested fatigue might have been a problem, but it was Shrewsbury who were playing their sixth away game in their last eight fixtures, which included a four-game spell against potential promotion winners. More likely Posh simply found the awful, blustery conditions and committed opponents too difficult to overcome for once.
When the free-flowing football takes a day off these are the matches when 1-0 wins need to be ground out. And Posh had that opportunity when, completely against the run of play, Erhun Oztumer delivered a precise through ball to Conor Washington who raced through and fired Posh 1-0 ahead on 57 minutes. An idiot promptly threw a flare into Alwnick’s penalty area from the home terrace - quite possibly in celebration at Washington, who now has nine goals in his last nine appearances, scoring with his left foot.
The goal did briefly knock the wind out of Shrewsbury sails, but Posh made too many poor attacking decisions to take advantage. Only when Marcus Maddison saw his swerving 25-yard free kick tipped over the bar by visiting ‘keeper Mark Halstead did Posh threaten to take a 2-0 lead.
Maddison made his first start since October 3 and looked rusty. Westley reckoned Posh missed Jon Taylor’s attacking thrusts (the former Shrews man was only fit enough to sit on the substitutes’ bench) and certainly his side’s attacking lacked it’s normal vibrancy and consistency, although Posh played some decent stuff when playing into the strong wind in the first half.
Callum Elder’s crossing from the left was terrific, but also well defended in the main. For all the Posh possession clearcut chances were rare with Michael Bostwick failing to beat the impressive Halstead with a close-range six-yard header after Chris Forrester had flicked on an Oztumer corner from the best of them.
Another accurate Maddison set-piece was also well saved and Washington ruined a show of strength when shooting from an ambitious angle after knocking Jermaine Grandison off the ball in the penalty area. Oztumer’s superb dribble following a short corner was also spoilt by a shot from 10 yards that missed the target in first-half stoppage time.
Shrewsbury offered little before the break, but improved after it. They deserved their equaliser and deserved to survive a late spell of Posh pressure which included a couple of off-target shots from substitute Souleymane Coulibaly and another from Oztumer.
Such is the current Posh reputation Shreswbury manager Micky Mellon called the draw a ‘great result’ for his team, while Westley bemoaned his side’s lack of ‘game intelligence’.
If by that he meant his side’s reluctance to rein in an attacking philosophy when too many key men are off their game in order to protect a valuable three points then he was right. He might also have beeen frustrated by an occasional habit of seeking a tough-tariff ‘Hollywood’ pass instead of a simple one which would cause just as many problems to an opposition defence.
Oztumer, who must have built an extension on his house to cope with the volume of man-of-the-match champagne he wins, is the biggest culprit, although his number of goals and assists is a decent rebuttal of that criticism.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith. Callum Elder, Ricardo Santos, Michael Bostwick, Chris Forrester, Harry Beautyman (sub Andrew Fox, 67 mins), Erhun Oztumer, Marcus Maddison (sub Souleymane Coulibaly, 75 mins), Conor Washington, Lee Angol (sub Jon Taylor, 59 mins). Unused substitutes: Dion-Curtis Henry, Miles Addison, Jack Baldwin, Leo Da Silva Lopes.
Shrewsbury: Mark Halstead, Jermaine Grandison, Anthony Gerrard, Nat Knight-Percival, Abu Ogogo, Jordan Clark (sub Tyrone Barnett, 71 mins), Ian Black (sub Liam Lawrence, 45 mins), Sulley Kaikai, Junior Brown, James Collins Usb Liam McAlinden, 76 mins), Scott Vernon. Unused substitutes: Zak Whitbread, Dominic Smith, Shaun Whalley, Callum Burton.
Posh - Washington (57 mins).
Shrewsbury - Barnett (80 mins)
Posh - Smith (foul), Taylor (delaying the re-start).
Shrewsbury - Black (foul), Brown (foul), McAlinden (foul)
Referee: Graham Horwood 5
Attendance: 5,568 (204 Shrewsbury)