In the early part of last season it wasn’t uncommon for Peterborough United manager Darren Ferguson to compare teenage midfielder Jermaine Anderson favourably to MK Don’s prize asset Dele Alli.
Well they were the same age and they did play in the same position, but apart from that it was an optimistic, and deeply unfair, comparison which cynics suggested was an attempt to inflate a potential transfer fee as much as it was to inflate a young player’s confidence.
Twelve months on and England international Alli has left Anderson way behind, but that’s not to say the Posh player won’t one day close the gap in status and ability. Perhaps because he was burdened by so much expectancy, Anderson scored just one goal last season and that arrived in August - his winning goal against Fleetwood yesterday (November 14) was his third in three games and proof that he is responding to the positive approach demanded by manager Graham Westley and his assistant Grant McCann.
Anderson, as Westley was the first to admit, didn’t play well yesterday. His passing was often too ambitious and inaccurate, but he never hid, he never stopped working for the team and he showed great timing and no little braveruy to beat Fleetwood’s impressive goalkeeper Chris Maxwell to Michael Smith’s excellent right-wing cross to head home a goal 14 minutes from time that took Posh back into the top half of the table.
It wasn’t the most convincing of victories against a team stuck in the bottom four. Indeed it was quite frustrating having to watch Posh hang on for dear life in a frantic finish that saw goalkeeper Ben Alnwick superbly tip a curler from David Henen onto the crossbar either side of substitute Marcus Maddison and the excellent Jon Taylor failing to make the game safe from gilt-edged one-on-one opportunities.
As always Westley summed the game up with commendable honesty. He’s not the sort of manager to let the result mask the performance.
Westley called it an ‘ugly’ win and admitted that the second-half performance - even though Posh scored both of their goals in that period - was disappointing. He also suggested that Fleetwood’s lowly position in the League One table is a false one, especially as they have recently introduced Premier League players to the club on loan, most notably lively Everton striker Henen. The fact that the visitors struck the crossbar three times in the game suggested the Posh boss was right on all fronts.
New ‘Cod Army’ manager Steven Pressley has also made an impression. His tactics yesterday were fascinating as Fleetwood employed a very high press from the start to stop Posh playing out from the back. It was a tactic that almost worked early on as Alnwick had to race to the edge of his area to rescue an under-hit backpass from an under-pressure Ricardo Santos, but it was a gameplan with a serious risk attached as there was plenty of space in midfield areas once Posh managed to work the ball out from the back.
And Westley’s men managed it well enough in the first half to dominate the game with some intricate passing, but Erhun Oztumer, Conor Washington and Lee Angol all missed that target when well-placed, while Taylor’s two terrific efforts from distance were splendidly saved by Maxwell. Fleetwood offered little in reply until defender Joe Davis clipped the top of the crossbar with a speculative effort during the one minute of added time.
Posh started the second-half on top, but once Anderson, who had headed Taylor’s lovely free-kick wide in the first-half, had failed to take decisive advantage of a defensive mix up, Fleetwood should really have taken the lead.
Central defender Michael Bostwick lost possession after careering forward and Fleetwood promptly worked an opening for Antoni Sarcevic who had all the time and space required to score, but instead blazed a shot against the crossbar.
Maddison and Souleymane Coulibaly - a player who had been ruled out because of international commitments all week - were promptly sent on for Oztumer and Lee Angol as Posh abandoned the midfield diamond and moved into 4-4-2 mode. It seemed harsh on Angol who had enjoyed more good moments, including a couple of impressively speedy bursts of pace into the Fleetwood penalty area, than his strike partner Washington, but Coilibaly’s impact was immediate.
Washington had just seen a self-made chance thwarted by the legs of Maxwell when Callum Elder’s excellent cross was nudged over the line from close range by Coulibaly’s midriff. It was a less-than-subtle hint that passing the ball into wide areas might be the route to victory, but instead Posh kept trying to force passes through the middle without much success. The loss of Angol’s ability to hold the ball up also helped Fleetwood get right back into the game.
The visitors introduced more flair and quality into their line-up after the break. They also introduced a deadly finisher in David Ball, a former Posh player, and he gratefully tucked away the equaliser after the visitors strung four decent passes together (as their opponents stood off and watched) to open up the home defence.
Posh never rediscovered their attacking flair, but one more excellent delivery from a wide area enabled Anderson to continue his fine goal-scoring run. Fleetwood tested the vulnerable right side of the Posh defence relentlessly during the final stages, but they couldn’t find a finish.
Winning when not at your best is of course a hallmark of successful sides and there is no reason to suspect that this Posh side can’t advance further up the table.
The return of Maddison, who looked rusty to say the least when he came on for his first appearance for six weeks, will help those ambitions as will the continued excellence of Taylor and Chris Forrester.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith, Callum Elder, Ricardo Santos, Michael Bostwick, Chris Forrester, Jermaine Anderson, Erhun Oztumer (sub Marcus Maddison, 55 mins), Jon Taylor, Lee Angol (sub Souleymane Coulibaly, 55 mins), Conor Washington (sub Andrew Fox, 80 mins). Unused substitutes: Dion-Curtis Henry, Harry Beautyman,Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, Leo Da Silva Lopes.
Fleetwood: Chris Maxwell, Eggert Jonsson (sub Bobby Grant, 85 mins), Nathan Pond, Amari’i Bell, jimmy Ryan, Tyler Forbes (sub Tariqe Fasu, 65 mins), Antoni Sarcevic, Nick Haughton (sub David Ball, 57 mins), David Henen, Dionatan Teixeira, Joe Davis. Unused substitutes: Alexandra Gogic, Stephen Jordan, Ashley Hunter,Jamie Proctor.
Goals: Posh - Coulibaly (56 mins), Anderson (76 mins).
Fleetwood - Ball (66 mins).
Caution: Posh - Smith (foul), Coulibaly (foul).
Referee: Lee Collins.
Attendance; 5,462 (85 Fleetwood).