On the face of it, there is no disgrace in losing at Millwall.
The Lions haven’t lost a game since December 17, they’ve let in just one goal in 2017, they’ve kept nine successive clean sheets and they’ve beaten three Premier League teams this year on their way to an FA Cup quarter-final with Spurs. They’ve even beaten those classy, much misunderstood champions of England, Leicester City, although it was in the dark days of Claudio Rainieri’s apparently hopeless management.
And yet they were awful last night in a quite dreadful spectacle on a pitch more uneven than the cobbled surface of Coronation Street. Posh defended well enough, but with any sort of attacking punch, any precision to their passing in the final third or with any penetration to go with their willing running, they might well have gained at least the point they most certainly deserved.
Instead they fell to a 54th minute penalty conceded rather foolishly by Anthony Grant and converted rather expertly by Lee Gregory, a man who had seen two spot-kicks saved in injury time a few days earlier. Millwall effectively scored on the counter attack from a Posh corner, but Grant had ample opportunity to stop the advancing Gregory before he reached the penalty area.
Gregory’s manager Neil Harris claimed he showed plenty of bottle to stick his hand up to take another shot at goal from 12 yards, but then playing for a Millwall team who create very little from open play, spot-kicks are manna from heaven.
No wonder Posh boss Grant McCann felt frustrated after the game. The first goal was always likely to prove crucial in this contest, but, while Posh, after a sluggish start, more than matched their in-form hosts, they only troubled rookie home goalkeeper Tom King from a Marcus Maddison set-piece strike in either half.
Possession was often lost before the penalty area and when Posh players did get behind a well-organised, rugged defence the man on the ball couldn’t pick out his target. Maddison was sent scurrying into the area by a splendid Paul Taylor pass in the 41st minute, but muffed his cross with Leo Da Silva Lopes waiting for a tap-in, while McCann criticised Tom Nichols for hiding beyond the far post instead of getting himself in front of a full-back when Maddison had freed substitute Craig Mackail-Smith 20 minutes from time.
Otherwise the best Posh scoring opportunties fell to full-backs Michael Smith and Andrew Hughes soon after the Millwall goal. Smith scuffed his volley from Taylor’s cross, but the ball travelled straight to Hughes who headed over the bar.
Milwall were no better going forward. Posh were humbled by an athletic, quick and powerful play-off chasing Southend side recently, but Millwall’s strength lies less spectacularly in organised defence and a combative midfield.
Posh defenders Ryan Tafazolli and Michael Bostwick were also dominant leaving goalkeeper Luke McGee to enjoy a quiet night so lacking in incident the home crowd spent much of the night mocking Maddison.
Maddison was poor apart from his dead-ball shooting. An injury time corner that failed to beat the first defender was particularly irritating.
Taylor was much brighter on the opposite flank, most notably in the first-half when he often carried the ball well from deep. If only he had vision and precision to go with his pace and trickery.
McCann, who left club captain Chris Forrester on the substitutes’ bench for 75 minutes, tried to shake things up, but giving Lee Angol just the final three minutes when his physique might have come in handy against such a powerful back four, was probably an error in judgement.
The defeat leaves Posh hanging on to the coat-tails of the leading play-off contenders. They travel to another on Saturday (March 4), and defeat at Bradford City could well lead to an eight-point gap and effectively the end of the Posh season.
Posh: Luke McGee, Michael Smith (sub Lee Angol, 87 mins), Andrew Hughes, Michael Bostwick, Ryan Tafazolli, Anthony Grant (sub Chris Forrester, 75 mins), Leo Da Silva Lopes (sub Craig Mackail-Smith, 66 mins), Brad Inman, Marcus Maddison, Paul Taylor, Tom Nichols. Unused substitutes: Junior Morias, Martin Samuelsen, Mark Tyler, Jerome Binnom-Williams.
Millwall: Tom King, Shaun Cummings, Tony Craig, Byron Webster, Jake Cooper, Shaun Williams, Ben Thompson (sub Shaun Hutchinson, 90 mins), Shane Ferguson, Fred Onyedimna, Lee Gregory (for Calum Butcher, 88 mins), Harry Smith (sub Aiden O’Brien, 66 mins). Unused substitutes: Harry Girling, David Worrall, Mahlon Romeo, Jimmy Abdou.
Goal: Millwall - Gregory (pen, 54 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Grant (foul), Maddison (persistent infringements), Inman (foul).
Millwall - Ferguson (foul).
Referee: Kevin Johnson 7
Attendance: 8,032 (303)