Short of cloning Michael Bostwick’s passion and finding an age reversing process for Craig Mackail-Smith, Peterborough United’s race is now run.
Teams that have won four of their last 15 League One matches, don’t tend to suddenly win eight of their last 10, which is what Posh probably now need to sneak into the play-off places by the end of the season.
Of course manager Grant McCann will insist his team attempt the near-impossible. He has to say that, especially when there are season tickets to flog, but he’s no fool. Like the rest of us he has been watching a team that defend their penalty area pretty well, but attack the opposition’s with all the threat and terror of a sloth on Mogadon.
Posh competed on equal terms in the first-half at Bradford City yesterday and were the better side for the final five minutes of the match, but only when Marcus Maddison’s 80th minute cross-shot from a tight angle struck his legs, was home ‘keeper Colin Doyle called upon to earn his wage. Maddison would have had a far better chance of scoring if substitute step-over specialist Martin Samuelsen had spotted him racing into space a little earlier.
Bradford’s fine young manager Stuart McCall’s respect for Posh as a footballing team was obvious after the game, but he correctly insisted his side had won all the relevant battles, an absolute necessity on the dog’s dinner of a playing surface at Valley Parade. McCall was right, although Bostwick and Ryan Tafazolli fought hard to repel free-scoring forwards Charlie Wyke and Alex Jones.
Bradford’s home record is peculiar. Familiarity with their own patch of barren land is presumably an advantage and yet it doesn’t suit their manager’s preferred style of play. They have done remarkably well to put together 19 unbeaten home matches when chasing a game must be tougher than boxing on one leg, but 12 draws must irritate a team who now have one eye on automatic promotion.
Blaming the second dodgy surface in a week for back-to-back single goal defeats would have been wrong and McCann didn’t try - his goalkeeper and his creative players bore the brunt of his frustration yesterday after a second-half dominated by the home side.
And yet it took a bizarre scrambled goal midway through the half to clinch the points. Jones, James Meredith and Wyke all looked to have bundled the ball over the line after Posh ‘keeper Luke McGee had fumbled Mark Marshall’s low shot before the former was awarded the goal - his third against Posh this season.
Tony McMahon and substitutes Timothee Dieng and Jordy Hiwula missed decent chances to make Bradford’s life easier in a final few minutes that saw Bostwick’s brave header from a corner nestle on the roof of the net, but none were as good as the chance Tom Nichols missed to equalise seven minutes into the second-half.
Mackail-Smith - whose effort and workrate levels remain undiminished by the years - pounced on a defensive slip by former Posh defender Nat Knight-Percival, squared the ball to the club’s top scorer who had just centre-back Rory McArdle to beat and he failed. McArdle is big, but not eight yards wide or eight feet high.
And that was pretty much that as far as clearcut chances created were concerned. Even when bossing the ball before the break, Posh created nothing of note, relying instead on three Marcus Maddison free kick strikes at goal for attacking excitement. Michael Smith also sent a 25 yarder fizzing over the crossbar and Nichols just failed to control a fine Maddison pass in the first-half before shooting a long-range effort just past a post in the opening moments of the second period.
Paul Taylor skinned home right-back McMahon regularly in that first-half thanks to his fast feet and turbo-charged bursts of pace, but his failure to complement those dazzling skills with even an average pass completion rate was most frustrating.
At least he offered some hope. Returning skipper Chris Forrester watched the game pass him by, while McCann was handicapped by a substitute’s bench which lacked a potential game-changer. Striker Lee Angol has been a disappointment this season, but to allow him to leave for National League leaders Lincoln City (a transfer expected to go through tomorrow, March 6) at a time when Posh require every possible goal threat is a strange one.
McCann, perhaps in the hope of finding some flat ground out wide, opted for a 4-4-2 formation for this match. He started with his most direct and quickest players, but they didn’t perform for him.
“Some of my players would do well to copy Michael Bostwick’s attitude,” McCann stated after the game. A heavy hint that all is not well in the camp.
Posh: Luke McGee, Michael Smith, Andrew Hughes, Ryan Tafazolli, Michael Bostwick, Anthony Grant (sub Brad Inman, 69 mins), Chris Forrester, Paul Taylor (sub Junior Morias, 76 mins, Marcus Maddison, Craig Mackail-Smith, Tom Nichols (sub Martin Samuelsen, 74 mins), Unused substitutes: Leo Da Silva Lopes, Mark Tyler, Jerome Binnom-Williams, Harry Anderson.
Bradford City: Colin Doyle, Tony McMahon, James Meredith, Rory McArdle, Nat Knight-Percival, Romain Vincelot, Josh Cullen, Alex Gilliead, Mark Marshall (sub Timothee Dieng, 80 mins), Charlie Wyke, Alex Jones (sub Jordy Hiwula, 63 mins). Unused substitutes: Rouven Sattelmaier, Kevin Toner, Billy Clarke, Matthew Penney, Daniel Devine.
Goal: Bradford - Jones (24 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Nichols (deliberate handball), Hughes (foul), Grant (foul). Bostwick (foul), Samuelsen (foul).
Bradford - Knight-Percival (foul).
Referee: Brett Huxtable 7
Attendance: 17.220 (430 Posh).