There’s a General Election around the corner so it’s a time to safely disregard most facts and figures that enter the public domain.
And this game of multiple goals, while a welcome relief from some of the ‘entertainment’ on offer at the ABAX Stadium this season, was still far from a return to the glory days when Peterborough United’s ‘Holy Trinity’ were running amok. There wasn’t enough quality on show to take the lazy journalist option and describe the match as a ‘seven-goal thriller’ but a surprise ending of two Posh goals in the final four minutes and the ensuing ramifications for Crawley Town ensured there were many post-match talking points.
Crawley were 18th in the provisional League One table and a point away from safety as the game ticked into the 87th minute. Goals from Michael Bostwick and Conor Washington then delivered a 4-3 win for Posh and dropped ‘The Reds’ into the relegation zone - a turnaround that would find empathy with any Posh fans at Selhurst Park in May 2013.
Two years on and Posh still haven’t recovered fully from that fateful London afternoon. To get back to the Championship next season the club needs to make a speedy decision on the next manager, find the next Dwight Gayle, ensure that Marcus Maddison concentrates on his football rather than his RADA skills, cure Jon Taylor’s knee injury for good, get Jack Baldwin and Gaby Zakuani playing together at the heart of the defence and re-discover the attacking mojo that made London Road a place opponents fear to tread.
The current squad, apart from a dismal effort at Scunthorpe on Good Friday, have sweated hard for Dave Robertson since he became manager in February and they may not need many additions to push for promotion next season, especially as League One is shaping up to be a far weaker competition in 2015/16. They struggled through this contest for the most part, but they kept going to the end and found a way to win, and they are never bad habits to have in the Football League.
Whether or not Robertson oversees the summer overhaul remains to be seen, but his obvious passion for the club, his strong relationship with the players and a boldness in selection make him a deserved frontrunner. Pleasingly he lacks the stubbornness of his predecessor in terms of selection and playing style and yesterday (April 25) he even affected the outcome with positive substitutions that at first glance seemed anything but.
Faced with a 3-2 deficit with 20 minutes to go, Robertson first sent on a central defender and then a defensive midfielder, but a switch to 4-4-2 and pushing Bostwick further forward ultimately won Posh the game. Three minutes from time Michael Smith, who had struggled as a left-sided defender in a back three, sent over a cross from the right-back position that was finished superbly by Bostwick from the edge of the penalty area.
That set up a frantic finale which was won by Posh as Gaby Zakuani headed Erhun Oztumer’s delightful cross onto a post with the rebound falling nicely for Washington to deliver a first win in seven matches for his team.
Robertson, perhaps in an attempt to tap into his chairman’s love of Academy graduates, started the game with a line-up with an average age of under 23. Sixteen year-old Leo Da Silva Lopes made his full debut, but understandably found the going tough in a crowded midfield. Harry Anderson, an 18 year-old victim of Crawley’s own Academy closure, continued his run of first-team starts and a third member of the club’s FA Youth Cup side, striker Jonathan Edwards, was given a 25 minute run-out from the bench ahead of £500k recruit Luke James.
But it was the senior men who settled the outcome of a topsy-turvey game in Posh’s favour. Bostwick registered his first two-goal Posh match and Washington also bagged a brace to make it four goals in his last three matches.
Posh trailled 1-0, led 2-1 and fell behind 3-2 before coming out on top. They started slowly and survived a six-yard headed opportunity from Mathias Pogba before Marvin Elliott poked Crawley in front from six yards.
Posh enjoyed much possession in that period, but suffered from an inability to weight a pass. They drew level however in the final minute of the half when a soft free-kick awarded for a foul on Washington led to Bostwick advancing before slamming a deflected shot against a post with Washington arriving to convert the rebound.
Bostwick, who was again outstanding in central midfield, was again allowed to run unchecked to the edge of the Crawley penalty area before cracking a drive into the bottom corner of the net from 25 yards seven minutes after the re-start, but within 15 minutes some dreadful marking had enabled Pogba and former Posh player Josh Simpson to fire Crawley back in front. Simpson’s only other goals in this ground had enabled Posh to recover from 4-0 down to draw 4-4 with Cardiff, but this time he was to finish a loser as Crawley’s brittle defence was cracked open twice late on.
Crawley boss Dean Saunders was heard to bemoan his side’s misfortune in scoring three times at a venue which has yielded few away goals in recent times - Posh had conceded just twice in their previous six outings at the ABAX - but then the last time Posh scored more than two goals in a match was also against Crawley, back on October 11.
Maddison was at his magical best on that occasion, but his standing among many Posh fans - although not with his chairman - now falls with each roll around the floor while clutching various body parts. He was jeered by some Posh fans for trying to win a penalty in the second-half when his own skill had created a potential goal-scoring opportunity
It’s a shame as Maddison remains the most naturally gifted player in the squad and he tried to inject some pace into attacking build-up play that was far too slow for most of this game. Oztumer always looks busy, and has obvious ability, but a failure to play the right pass often enough, or play it quickly enough, remains a source of frustration.
Still they are problems for the summer. Posh could still finish seventh this season, albeit a fair way behind the play-off combatants, and given where they were when Robertson took over, that would constitute a decent late-season effort.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Ricardo Santos (sub Christian Burgess, 70 mins), Gaby Zakuani, Michael Smith, Joe Newell (sub Jack Payne, 81 mins), Erhun Oztumer, Michael Bostwick, Marcus Maddison, Harry Anderson, Conor Washington, Leo Da Silva Lopes (sub Jonathan Edwards, 65 mins). Unused substitutes: Dion-Curtis Henry, David Norris, Luke James, Harry Beautyman.
Crawley: Brian Jensen, Sonny Bradley, Darren Ward, Kelly Youga, Josh Simpson, Lewis Young, Lee Fowler, Marvin Elliott (sub Dean Morgan 90 mins), Izale Mcleod (sub jimmy Smith, 81 mins), Gavin Tomlin, Mathais Pogba. Unused substitutes: Lewis Price, Ryan Dickson, Laure Oyebanjo, Bodson Bawling, Matt Harrold.
Posh - Washington (44 mins & 89 mins), Bostwick (51 mins & 87 mins).
Crawley - Elliott (29 mins), Pogba (58 mins), Simpson (67 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Maddison (time wasting).
Referee: Charles Breakspear 5
Attendance: 6,270 (331 Crawley).