If you need to learn how to battle there can be no better teacher than a former Royal Marine.
And new Posh boss Dave Robertson is such a proud ex-Commando, it can only be a matter of time before a bunker replaces the managerial dug-out and camoflauge is used to decieve the opposition.
After this gritty 1-0 win over gifted opposition Robertson even likened the play-off race to an ‘assault course’. Happily Posh have overcome every obstacle (bar Preston’s pincer tactics) placed in their path since they replaced a struggler with a soldier and today (March 21) they reached the League One play-off places.
It’s a remarkable turnaround in form as Posh have leapt nine places in just six games. It may be a brief stay in the top six (Rochdale could overtake Posh on Tuesday, March 24), but if heart, spirit and bravery are the main requirements for a play-off spot, don’t rule Posh out just yet from a second successive appearance in the post-season fun.
This wasn’t a pretty win, Indeed all the attractive stuff was played by a Chesterfield side who pass and move better than most teams in League One, but stubborn defending eventually trumped stylish attack as Posh celebrated a third straight home win without conceding a goal.
They did it the hard way as they suffered a red card when centre-back Ricardo Santos was dismissed after committing two trips in three minutes on Sam Clucas midway through the second-half. The pair, both of whom possess a prominent clumsy gene, were tangling all afternoon, but it was Santos who eventually cracked - thankfully his departure (ridiculously to a near-standing ovation) inspired his team-mates as well as the home crowd.
The departure of Santos also exposed the fact that Robertson may be more than just a strong motivator. His decision to immediately throw substitute central defender Shaun Brisley into the fray was obvious, but withdrawing right-back Michael Smith rather than one of two strikers was a shock, albeit one that turned out to be pleasingly positive.
Posh deployed three central defenders and two attacking wing backs. Robertson let Luke James and Conor Washington stay on in order to keep Chesterfield’s unconvincing back four occupied and it almost instantly worked a treat as a terrific surging right-wing run and cross from James was met by Washington and saved by visiting ‘keeper Tommy Lee, although the rest of the game was pretty much spent in and around the Posh penalty area.
Chesterfield saw plenty of the ball, but generally crossed it poorly. “We should have been more patient,” announced Chesterfield’s assistant manager Leam Richardson, one of the most polite men ever to grace the Posh press room, after the match. Richardson predicted that the match stats would prove Chesterfield dominance, but he congratulated Posh on their defending and insisted it was nice to meet the handful of pressmen before departing.
Chesterfield were most dominant in the opening 25 minutes when they toyed with Posh thanks to the fluency and accuracy of their passing. They still found Santos and the imperious Gaby Zakuani tough to breach and two long-range shots from Jay O’Shea (the second a superbly-struck 20-yard volley) caused sharp intakes of breath in the London Road End.
Posh ‘keeper Ben Alnwick also frustrated O’Shea with a double-save before Posh started to impose their own style of play on their visitors. Long balls started reaching their targets and Michael Bostwick, looking for all the world like a long-bearded Viking on a rampage and pillage mission, started to win his tackles.
Chesterfield right-back Tendayi Darikwa was prominent in those early stages, but his regular forays forward left a big gap behind and Posh exploited it perfectly to take the lead in the 26th minute.
Washington performed the groundwork and, although James couldn’t convert his cross, the ball fell kindly for Bostwick whose rather weak left foot shot trundled over the goalline thanks to a helpful defensive deflection.
Moments later James burst through in the same area only for Lee to beat away his volley and Posh maintained their lead to the interval rather comfortably as the deterioration of the ABAX Stadium playing surface seemed to undermine Chesterfield confidence.
Washington was denied a goal by a fine Lee save after harassment of a defender by James had set him free just after the re-start, but an entertaing end-to-end clash was interrupted by the departure of Santos.
Inevitably Chesterfield dominated, but once Clucas had nipped in between Zakuani and Alnwick to stab a shot against a post (that’s the Zakuani version anyway as most onlookers thought he had poked the ball past his own ‘keeper) and Alnwick had saved brilliantly from Gary Roberts, few clear-cut chances arrived. Long-range shots at goal usually bounced off Zakuani and Kgosi Ntlhe.
Chesterfield did win many free kicks in the latter stages, but those that weren’t cleared by Zakuani’s bonce were caught by a goalkeeper in outstanding current form.
Posh also received help from a time-wasting ball boy which wasn’t good to see. Professional footballers are masters of the go-slow anyway - they don’t need help from misbehaving kids.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith (sub Shaun Brisley, 64 mins), Kgosi Ntlhe, Gaby Zakuani, Ricardo Santos, Jack Payne, Michael Bostwick, Joe Newell, Jon Taylor, Conor Washington, Luke James. Unused substitutes: Dion Curtis-Henry, David Norris, Harry Beautyman, Kyle Vassell, Aaron Mclean, Harry Anderson.
Chesterfield: Tommy Lee, Sam Hird, Ian Evatt, Tendayi Danikwa (sub Daniel Jones, 73 mins), Jimmy Ryan, Jay O’Shea, Gary Roberts (sub Emmanuel Dieseruvwe), Sam Clucas, Ollie Banks (sub Michael Onovwiguni, 63 mins), Sam Morsy, Drew Talbot. Unused substitutes: Aaron Chapman, Ashley Carter, Gboly Ariyibi, Ritchie Humphreys.
Goals: Posh - Bostwick (26 mins).
Sending off - Santos (second cautionable foul).
Cautions: Posh - Santos (foul), Newell (delaying the re-start).
Referee: David Webb 6
Attendance: 6,612 (674 Chesterfield).