A less-than vintage League One competition was summed up rather neatly at the ABAX Stadium last night (November 27).
Peterborough United didn’t play particularly well. There was very little fluency to their football and yet they still could and should have won by three goals against a managerless AFC Wimbledon side with little to offer other than big hearts.
The fact it took a brilliant strike from Marcus Maddison on the hour to seal three points was both joyous and concerning. It is of course most welcome that the squad’s most naturally talented performer bagged his first goal from open play in nine months - even if the forthcoming January transfer window was part of his motivation - but his wonderful 25 yard strike on the hour should have been the highlight of a convincing win rather than the game’s most decisive moment against this standard of opposition.
Still the three points ensured manager Steve Evans could bask in the knowledge that 38 points is the best return from the opening 20 games of a League One campaign since relegation from the Championship at the end of the 2012-13 season. It’s always handy having actual facts to throw at critics who think Posh should be playing like Barcelona, or even Luton Town.
Evans, with local media relationships all restored, cut a much more relaxed figure after the match, even making light of the dishonour of becoming the first manager to be banned from the touchline for an accumulation of yellow cards this season, an occurrence with the inevitability of summer following spring.
“I was glad I’d been banned from the dugout because I’d probably have been sent off,” Evans chuckled in reference to two unsuccessful penalty appeals from an apparently unbalanced Siriki Dembele.
“But winning was all that mattered tonight and we deserved the three points. We know we have to be better at home if we are to be in the shake-up when it really matters in May.
“For a start the chairman forked out £470k on a new playing surface at the ABAX and on Monday he was threatening to drive a bloody great tractor down the middle of it as we hadn’t played well on it for a while.”
You could sense the relief in Evans as he spoke. It probably wasn’t as great as the fourth official’s relief at only having to contend with one persistently noisy member of staff in the Posh dugout rather than two, but it was obvious nonetheless.
Evans was probably less generous with his comments during a 90 minutes that featured a toothless first-half which contained very little passion or urgency, short passes delivered too slowly and long balls delivered too inaccurately. Despite this Ivan Toney spooned Maddison’s fine second minute cross over the bar and Matt Godden shot feebly when another Maddison pass slipped under the foot of a defender straight into his path 10 minutes before the break.
But Posh roused themselves at the start of the second half with Godden again failing to score when well placed after good work from Dembele and then from left-back Colin Daniel.
Maddison’s sumptuous strike after drifing in from the wing should have been the catalyst for further Posh goals, but when they didn’t arrive anxiety crept in and some dogged defending was required to secure three points that moved Evans’ men into fourth place ahead of Barnsley. Wimbledon centre-back Will Nightingale came closest to adding a second Posh goal when heading Maddison’s cross against his own post.
The visitors profited often from referee Chris Sarginson’s insistence on awarding as few free kicks as possible, or correct corner and throw-in decisions for that matter, but Joe Piggott blew their big opportunity 10 minutes from time when bundling Rhys Bennett out of the way, going round Posh ‘keeper Aaron Chapman, before failing to beat Ryan Tafazolli on the goalline.
Evans, and his very supportive chairman Darragh MacAnthony, are adamant Posh will improve as the season wears on and they will need to just to maintain a position in the top six.
But league positions don’t tend to lie after 20 games. Posh are nine points better off than at this stage last season and two points better off than the Britt Assombalonga-inspired side of 2013-14 who started that campaign in relentless fashion.
Co-incidentally Maddison’s last goal from open play arrived against Wimbledon last February. That match finished 1-1 and a Posh manager lost his job the following day. Compared to those events, this was a terrific night and result.
Posh: Aaron Chapman, Joe Ward, Colin Daniel, Rhys Bennett, Ryan Tafazolli, Alex Woodyard, Louis Reed, Marcus Maddison (sub George Cooper, 86 mins), Siriki Dembele, Matt Godden (sub Mark O’Hara, 84 mins), Ivan Toney (sub Jason Cummings, 76 mins).
Unused substitutes: Jamie Walker, Tyler Denton, Jason Naismith, Mark Tyler.
AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, Deji Oshilaja, Will Nightingale, Rod McDonald, Ben Purrington, Mitch Pinnock, Liam Trotter (sub Kwesi Appiah, 73 mins), Andy Barcham (sub Jake Jervis, 68 mins), Tom Soares, Anthony Wordsworth (sub Anthony Hartigan, 62 mins), Joe Pigott.
Unused substitutes: Tom King, Terrell Thomas, Alfie Egan, Tennai Watson.
Goal: Posh - Maddison (60 mins).
Referee: Chris Sarginson 5
Attendance: 5,064 (185 Wimbledon).