Peterborough United are putting on a training session in front of their fans today (April 12). It’s a fair bet a barn door will be essential equipment.
It’s now 423 minutes (plus added time at the end of matches) since Michael Bostwick’s shot against Chesterfield on March 21 deflected into the back of the net off a visiting defender. Since then Posh have failed to trouble the scorers. Four-and-three- quarter matches - mostly against struggling sides - without a goal from a club who, not so very long ago, used to be called the entertainment kings of the lower leagues.
Sadly fun and excitement left London Road well before Darren Ferguson did. Anyone lucky enough to be granted an interview for the Posh manager’s job in May will need to deliver a convincing attacking gameplan, and probably a long list of potential striker signings.
Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony, the man who will make a pretty important appointment, remains a fan of Conor Washington judging by his Twitter timeline and he spent a cool £500,000 on Luke James. One appears burdened by blind faith and optimism, the other by a hefty price tag. Neither of yesterday’s starting strikers threatened to score against a Swindon short of a few first-team regulars and of decent current form. Even when James, standing six yards from goal, latched on to a low cross in the seventh minute it came as no surprise that Swindon fans behind the goal were soon ducking for cover when they should have been venting their anger at falling behind.
Washington actually played pretty well until he reached the Swindon penalty area when a reluctance to shoot quickly became irritating. The former free-scoring St Ives forward delivered one terrific run into the area before setting up Marcus Maddison for what should have been a tap-in 10 minutes into the second-half, but instead a tame shot was poked straight at home ‘keeper Wes Foderingham. Washington’s classy pull down of a free kick into the area soon afterwards was spoilt by another weak shot which dribbled into Foderingham’s arms
It was all a shame for stand-in boss Dave Robertson (he was effectively downgraded to caretaker-manager in MacAnthony’s latest lengthy club statement this week) who set his side up to play football rather than hoofball and was rewarded with the best performance of his stint in charge.
Robertson’s selection was positive - it pretty much had to be as a win was vital to keep alive fading play-off ambitions - and they at times, particularly in the second-half, out-passed the best passing side in the division. It should be stressed however that this was the perfect time to play Swindon as they were missing three regular first-teamers because of suspension, one more because of injury and they had very little to play-for as automatic promotion is a forlorn hope, while missing out on the play-offs is near-impossible.
It would still have been a decent scalp on a manager’s CV. Instead it just became another damning statistic once Swindon substitite Jermaine Hylton had claimed the first senior goal of his career with his first kick of the ball 20 minutes from time. For perhaps the only time in the game, the Posh defence afforded the home side too much time and space in and around the penalty area and Hylton’s well-placed shot travelled through Kgosi Ntlhe’s legs and into the corner of Ben Alnwick’s legs.
Swindon had played well below their usual standards, but then good sides tend to still find a way to win. Something that remains impossible if you don’t actually score a goal.
As usual there was no lack of Posh commitment. For players one caution away from a two-game ban Jack Payne and Michael Bostwick threw themselves into midfield challenges and usually came away with the ball. Ntlhe was another to catch the eye with some robust defending and also with one superb pass that sent Joe Newell into the penalty area behind the home defence only for his intelligent cut-back to remain unread by those in the penalty area.
Washington and James, for all their honest endeavour, lack a natural goalscorer’s instincts of where a ball into the penalty area might arrive. If Britt Assombalonga hadn’t been sold two days before the start of the season, it’s reasonable to believe that Posh would already be planning a post-season campaign.
That wasn’t likely to happen even before yesterday’s (April 11) match even though none of the many teams battling for sixth managed to win. Robertson has four games and an hour-long interview to convince MacAnthony that he is still the best man to spearhead a promotion push next season while playing the sort of attacking football Posh enjoyed in the days of George Boyd, Craig Mackail-Smith and Ferguson.
The games this season should involve more matches playing 3-5-2 with Maddison, or even Erhun Oztumer, playing behind a pair of strikers. Maddison is well below the standard of his early Posh appearances, but he remains the man most likely to produce something out of the ordinary in a team that lacks attacking wit, imagination and power.
Teenager Harry Anderson should also be handed a run of matches in the starting line-up. He played well in the first-half here as an right wing-back, particularly when carrying the ball forward. Gaby Zakuani has maintained his recent excellence in the middle of a back three formation that has brought the best out of Michael Smith and Ntlhe.
Zakuani is this team’s leader and he certainly carried the argument to erratic referee Andy Davies when the official awarded Swindon a soft-looking first-half penalty when slight contact from Michael Smith persuaded Jonathan Obika to throw himself to the floor rather than to try and score. Thankfully justice was served by Andy Williams smacking the spot-kick against the crossbar.
Otherwise Swindon’s attacking threat in the first-half was a series of long-shots from Ben Gladwin which tested Alwnick just once. After the break Swindon threatened even less once Williams had mis-judged a far post cross with the goal at his mercy. Alwnick saved well at the death to deny Nathan Byrne a second goal which would have flattered Swindon in manager Mark Cooper’s 100th match in charge.
Robertson is just 10 games into his career as Posh boss, but he proved he is getting the hang of this manager lark by suggesting the inconsistency of referee Davies was a factor in the defeat, If soft penalties were part of Davies’ repertoire then Posh should have had one for a second-half nudge on Washington, was the gist of his rather inconvincing argument.
More sensibly Robertson should focus on the timing of the runs his attacking players make and on halting Maddison’s theatrics when tackled. Even bad referees are not being fooled by the clutching of the knee and a roll around the turf.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith, Kgosi Ntlhe, Gaby Zakuani, Michael Bostwick, Jack Payne (sub Harry Beautyman, 88 mins), Harry Anderson, Joe Newell, Marcus Maddison (sub Erhun Oztumer, 75 mins), Conor Washington, Luke James. Unused substitutes: Aaron Mclean, Dion-Curtis Henry, David Norris, Alan Sheehan, Ricardo Santos.
Swindon: Wes Foderingham, Jack Stephens, Jordan Turnbull, Sam Ricketts, Nathan Byrne, Harry Toffolo, Anton Rodgers (sub John Swift, 65 mins), Ben Gladwin, Massimo Luongo, Jon Obika (sub Michael Smith, 86 mins), Andy Williams (sub Jermaine Hilton, 70 mins). Unused substitutes: Cameron Belford, George Barker, Jack Barthram, Will Randall.
Goal: Swindon - Hylton (71 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Smith (foul).
Swindon - Turnbull (foul), Toffolo (foul).
Referee: Andy Davies.
Attendance: 7,426 (285 Posh).