Admiring the opposition doesn’t come naturally to football fans.
It’s far easier to howl at your own team’s shortcomings, especially after a 4-0 home drubbing at the hands of a team perceived as promotion rivals at this early stage of the season.
Barnsley were exceptional and Peterborough United were poor. One probably led to the other as the huge gulf between the Championship and League One was again exposed. The Tykes retained virtually all of the squad that finished two points from safety in the second tier last season, and added a head coach with experience of the Bundesliga.
Last season Wigan, Blackburn and Rotherham all returned to the Championship after a season-long absence and it would take a brave man to bet against Barnsley and Sunderland achieving the same. There appeared to be no weaknesses in yesterday’s visitors who included a highly-rated (and penalty-saving) goalkeeper, a robust back four, a host of midfielders all comfortable on the ball and mobile strikers (once Kieffer Moore limped off in the first-half) all of whom took part in some dazzling passing movements against shell-shocked opponents.
It was all rather worrying for a Posh team with designs on the top two. Once Marcus Maddison had been overlooked to take a 12th minute penalty and watched Barnsley ‘keeper Adam Davies save Ivan Toney’s spot-kick, one awarded possibly for two fouls on Toney and Joe Ward, it was downhill all the way.
Within 90 seconds former Posh loanee George Moncur, who played like a man with a point to prove, had opened the scoring and a final scoreline of 4-0 couldn’t be dismissed as unfortunate or flattering. It was the least Barnsley deserved against a team now without a home win at the ABAX for four matches.
That form prompted Posh boss Steve Evans to change formation to 4-4-1-1. That was abandoned after 25 minutes soon after Aaron Chapman had made a brilliant save to thwart Moore and Posh even played wing-backs and three centre-backs for a time, but they could neither stem the flow of visiting attacks nor disturb the best defence in League One. A couple of Matt Godden headers from set-pieces, headed wide in the first-half and chested off the line by Alex Mowatt in the final moments, were the sum total of Posh threats on goal as they failed to score for the first time in League One this season.
To be fair to the manager, whereas tweaking systems at Sunderland in the previous outing made little sense, something had to be done for home games which have seen opponents dominate the ball far too often for comfort, but leaving the two leading scorers and a dazzling young winger on the bench didn’t work.
Fingers will also be pointed at a defence and goalkeeper who have have now let in at least two goals in the last seven competitive matches, but despite the obvious travails of left-back Colin Daniel it’s far too simple to blame a back four for goals conceded when many of the problems arise from the ease with which teams play through the Posh midfield.
Moncur was mesmerising at times yesterday, but then he was allowed to be. He created the two second-half Barnsley goals by strolling unchallenged across the edge of the Posh penalty area to set up Brad Potts for a deflected 20-yarder and substitute Jacob Brown for a splendid finish in injury time.
Potts had also delivered a fatal wound on the stroke of half-time with a blast into the corner from a 20-yard free kick. Posh were similarly outplayed by Wigan on this ground early last season, but crucially hung on, turned round 1-0 down and somehow won the game.
That was never happening here. One suspects Maddison taking a penalty and any starting formation would have floundered against high-quality opponents playing at the top of their game. Barnsley spurned several other promising scoring opportunities with right-back Dimitri Cavare missing a sitter at the start of the second-half.
And yet the bigger picture remains rosey. Posh are second after 12 matches having lost just twice. They are no further from first place than they were at the start of the day and they can have a rest from taking on sides in the top six for a while.
Few, not even Evans and his chairman, expected this sort of start. Whether or not this group of players can ever get close to Barnsley’s level is another matter.
Peterborough United: Aaron Chapman, Jason Naismith, Colin Daniel (sub Darren Lyon, 56 mins), Rhys Bennett, Ryan Tafazolli, Alex Woodyard, Mark O’Hara, Marcus Maddison (sub Louis Reed, 65 mins), Joe Ward, Ivan Toney, Jamie Walker (sub Matt Godden, 25 mins).
Unused substitutes: Jason Cummings, Siriki Dembele, Mark Tyler, Callum Cooke.
Barnsley: Adam Davies, Kenny Dougall, Ethan Pinnock, Liam Lindsay, Alex Mowatt, Ben Williams, Brad Potts (sub Ryan Hedges, 77 mins), Dimitri Cavare, George Moncur, Kieffer Moore (sub Jacob Brown, 35 mins), Mike Bahre (sub Mamado Thiam, 90 mins).
Unused substitutes: Jack Walton, Cameron McGeehan, Adam Jackson, Victor Adeboyejo.
Goals: Barnsley - Moncur (14 mins), Potts (45 mins & 60 mins), Brown (90 + 3 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Toney (foul), Bennett (foul), Reed (foul).
Barnsley - Cavare (foul), Lindsay (foul).
Referee: Darren Drysdale 8
Attendance: 7,683 (1,583 Barnsley).