This was like watching Darren Ferguson’s 2011 Peterborough United team play his 2014 outfit.
One side delivered thrilling, fluent attacking football played at a terrific tempo by young and hungry players. The other was slow, tactically deficient and lacking in imagination.
The final scoreline seemed inevitable from the outset as Graham Westley’s Posh side tore into Ferguson’s Doncaster from the kick-off and blew them away in 47 minutes. It would be wrong to suggest Ferguson was shell-shocked after the game, but he appeared to perform his media duties on auto pilot.
All the expressions heard regularly by Posh fans were there. ‘Didn’t keep the ball well enough’, ‘can’t keep conceding from set-pieces’ and the rather irritating ‘the lads had been good in training’. He also praised Posh for their performance and the generous reception he received before the game from the majority of the home fans - the taunts of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ and ‘Fergie, Fergie, what’s the score?’ during the game were ignored by press and Ferguson.
To be fair Ferguson must probably feel like Jurgen Klopp on his first day at Anfield. Both seem to have inherited a mess as Doncaster delivered the sort of slow-witted display which explained their current status as League One relegation candidates.
In contrast Graham Westley is enjoying one long honeymoon as Posh manager. It’s true that expectations were low when he started, but even his most ardent fan - with the probably exception of his chairman - must be surprised as well as delighted at the positive impact both in the media room and on the pitch he has made.
Posh have scored 18 goals in Westley’s seven-game reign. They are now League One’s leading scorers with 30 goals in 15 matches and, if tangible success proves elusive again, the quality of the attacking football and the entertainment on offer will be decent consolations. Even Westley’s two defeats have been five-goal thrillers.
The first-half against Doncaster must have been the best 45 minutes of football seen at the ABAX Stadium for some time. It probably wasn’t all down to the presence of a familiar figure in the opposition dug-out, although the first two goals were scored by players who felt they didn’t always get a fair crack of the whip under Ferguson.
Central defender Gaby Zakuani rose highest to head home Erhun Oztumer’s corner in the ninth minute before Oztumer delivered a superb finish from the edge of the penalty area to make it 2-0 nine minutes before the break. Souleymane Coulibaly’s ability to keep possession in a tight spot before picking out his team-mate with great accuracy proved to be a wonderful assist.
There could have been more goals in the first-half even though Posh pre-match plans which involved playing midfielder Jermaine Anderson as an advanced right-back were disrupted by Zakuani’s early injury. Zakuani was playing his seventh game in 21 days which may have contributed to a suspected hamstring injury.
Coulibaly struck the inside of the post with a thumping left-foot strike from the edge of the area and Conor Washington controlled a quite brilliant 60-yard pass from Ricardo Santos beyond the Doncaster back four, but scuffed his finish.
Washington also shot across goal when well-placed and Coulibaly tested Doncaster ‘keeper Thorsten Stuckman with another pile driver.
Posh had far too much pace, speed of thought and mobility for a Doncaster team lacking in all those key elements. Posh also had more defensive organisation and the clean sheet was greeted with the same acclaim as four goals by Westley after the match.
Only once, when stand-in centre-back Michael Bostwick slipped, did Doncaster threaten before the break and Santos was quickly across to block Andy Williams’ shot. In the second-half Nathan Tyson struck the inside of a post with a clever first-time flick, but otherwise Ben Alnwick only had long-range shots to deal with and he dealt with them expertly.
Ferguson re-organised his team at the break - only he will know why he left it that long - but a switch to three at the back was undone inside three minutes when on-loan left back Callum Elder strode forward and unleashed a fierce shot that ricocheted around three Doncaster defenders before falling back into the Aussie’s path. Elder finished comfortably to claim his first Football League goal - in front of his mother, a rare attendee at his matches.
Conor Washington completed the scoring with a 25 yard strike into the corner 15 minutes from time. Posh never threatened to reach the dizzy heights of their first-half display, but then they didn’t need to. They still worried Doncaster whenever they broke with the left-sided partnership of Elder and Jon Taylor particularly disruptive.
Coulibaly should have added a fifth goal late on following a strong run by late substitute Lee Angol, but he missed the target.
Westley refused to credit individuals in his post-match briefing as he wanted the team to take the glory. He has a point as no-one has scored more goals than Angol’s five in the 30 delivered by the team in League One. Elder’s magical moment means 10 different players have now contributed goals to the cause.
Oztumer may be the player who thrives most under Westley. The manager did admit after another outstanding display from the Turkish play-maker that he’s taken to calling him ‘Harry’ after a certain wizard, but the sorcerer had many willing apprentices in this game as Chris Forrester and Coulibaly also impressed.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Callum Elder, Ricardo Almeida Santos, Gaby Zakuani (sub Michael Smith, 16 mins), Michael Bostwick, Jermaine Anderson (sub Andrew Fox, 67 mins), Chris Forrester, Erhun Oztumer (sub Kyle Vassell, 87 mins), Jon Taylor, Conor Washington, Souleymane Coulibaly. Unused substitutes: Dion-Curtis Henry, Jack Collison, Lee Angol. Leo Da Silva Lopes. Alex Davey.
Doncaster: Thorsten Stuckmann, Mitchell Lund, Cedric Evina, Andy Butler, Lee McCullogh, Ritchie Wellens (sub Harry Middleton, 54 mins), Richard Chaplow (sub, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, 46 mins). James Coppinger, Cameron Stewart, Nathan Tyson, Andy Williams (sub Harry Forrester, 55 mins). Unused substitutes: Marko Marosi, Dany N’Guessen, James Horsfield, Paul Keegan.
Goals: Posh - Zakuani (9 mins), Oztumer (36 mins), Elder (47 mins), Washington (74 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Santos (foul).
Doncaster - Wellens (foul), Butler (foul), Lund (foul).
Referee: Mark Brown 8
Attendance: 6,092 (646 Doncaster)