This was a strange old day (February 25).
Rochdale turned up at the ABAX Stadium so short of fit defenders they fielded two strikers with 19 goals between them this season as full-backs and a midfielder at centre forward. More surprisingly former Posh player Nat Mendez-Laing arrived looking lean and mean. Either this natural talent has finally knuckled down to become a serious professional footballer or Nando’s has yet to reach that corner of Lancashire.
Dale’s form had disappeared along with their star winger’s waistline so this was a golden opportunity for Posh to right the wrongs of a midweek capitulation. They did just that in terms of the result and their attitude, but whether or not theirs is again a serious push for the play-offs... well away dates at Millwall and Bradford City in the next week will answer that particular question.
Play-off talk is no longer a thing in the Posh dressing room anyway. They presumably now discuss the matters of the day like Brexit, Trump and why on earth so many Coronation Street women fall for Steve McDonald.
It’s all a ruse designed by manager Grant McCann to take the pressure off as the the business end of the season arrives. After all he’s tried everything else without finding a successful strike partnership and this was such a promising start even Marcus Maddison and Paul Taylor - two individuals blessed with huge levels of talent - were, rather unsually, seen passing to each other on a regular basis.
It was often far from perfect though. Perfection would have arrived with a handsome win accompanied by the chairman announcing season ticket prices to match Bradford City’s and Craig Mackail-Smith grabbing his 100th club goal on his 33rd birthday. In a soap opera that might have all happened, but this is a reality show when the level of support doesn’t demand cheap admission and a veteran striker’s effort levels are no longer matched by his technique and quality.
Most of the time Posh were dominant, but at other times they were thoroughly unconvincing (on occasions there were also mind-boggling acts of stupidity), but on a dramatic afternoon of two classy Posh finishes, four goals and three red cards, it was also entertaining in a madcap sort of way.
Dale manager Keith Hill - a genius at this level given the constraints he works under - blamed referee Chris Sarginson for the manner of his side’s defeat. Hill rightly opined that the standard of League One official is generally low, while less correctly claiming red cards for midfielder Joe Rafferty and striker Donal McDermott were unjust.
Sarginson’s display was erratic as he appeared to miss a most blatant trip by Jack Baldwin on Jamie Allen when the score was goal-less in the first-half and a similarly obvious bodycheck by Harrison McGahey on Marcus Maddison with 20 minutes to go.
It was an eventful day for Baldwin who, while possessing the passion to be a decent stand-in skipper, doesn’t yet have the calmness and maturity the position demands. Baldwin poked Posh in front from Maddison’s corner in the 36th minute, was then the victim of McDermott’s ugly lunge which led to a straight red card seven minutes into the second-half and was then dismissed himself 10 minutes from the end for the second of two fouls, both committed rather senselessly when Posh were playing, rather unsuccessfully, with 11 against nine. Rafferty had departed just before the break for a silly tug back on Maddison - his second yellow card offence of the afternoon.
Posh led 2-1 at the time with Tom Nichols supplying a quality 18-yard finish to a centre from Leo Da Silva Lopes, who himself had been released by Maddison’s impressive chest pass, just four minutes after Baldwin’s goal and just 60 seconds before Joe Thompson’s reply for Dale following a slide-rule pass from Mendez-Laing.
Posh really should have won more comfortably when playing for 25 minutes with a two-man advantage, but whereas they had exploited space well on the break against a full complement, they became confused when confronted with two banks of four, losing their width, their momentum and, for a while, the backing of an increasingly frustrated home crowd.
Maddison did force one superb save from visiting ‘keeper Ben Wilson who also raced off his line well to thwart Brad Inman and Nichols. Substitute Mackail-Smith often teetered on the brink of that milestone goal, but he snatched at his opportunities so the wait must go on.
The legend was sacrificed at the start as McCann moved to a 4-5-1 formation with Maddison and Taylor offering plenty from wide areas and Nichols linking up adequately as the team’s attacking spearhead.
Maddison smashed an early free kick against the crossbar and sent delicious long crosses into the area in each half with Nichols heading the first straight at Wilson and Mackail-Smith failing to control the second. Dale defender Keith Keane also hooked a ball off the goal-line after a Maddison corner had been blocked goalwards by Ryan Tafazolli.
Understandably Dale suffered from fatigue as the game wore on, although Calvin Andrew (a target man who started the game marking Maddison as an emergency left-back, while his usual strike partner Ian Henderson played at right-back) did test Luke McGee with a fierce drive in the final moments.
By then Taylor had volleyed in a cracking third Posh goal following an excellent cross from Inman and McCann had shrugged off the dreaded vote of confidence by engineering a much-needed win.
McCann had himself given a far more suprising vote of confidence to a back four mauled by Southend in their previous outing, although there might be more to come on the absence of on-loan central defender Dominic Ball from today’s matchday squad.
Posh: Luke McGee, Michael Smith, Andrew Hughes, Jack Baldwin, Ryan Tafazolli, Michael Bostwick, Leo Da Silva Lopes (sub Craig Mackail-Smith, 63 mins), Brad Inman, Marcus Maddison, Paul Taylor, Tom Nichols (sub Junior Morias, 86 mins).
Unused substitutes: Lee Angol, Mark Tyler, Martin Samuelsen, Jerome Binnom-Williams, Callum Chettle.
Rochdale: Ben Wilson, Joe Rafferty, Jim McNulty, Callum Camps, Donal McDermott, Joe Thompson (sub Harrison McGahey, 46 mins), Keith Keane (sub Mark Kitching, 57 mins), Jamie Allen, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (sub Andrew Cannon, 76 mins), Ian Henderson, Calvin Andrew. Unused substitutes: Conrad Logan, Oliver Rathbone, Reuben Noble-Lazarus, Peter Vincenti.
Goals: Posh - Baldwin (36 mins), Nichols (39 mins), Taylor (85 mins). Rochdale - Thompson (40 mins).
Sendings off: Posh - Baldwin (second cautionable foul).
Rochdale: Rafferty (second cautionable foul), McDermott (serious foul play).
Cautions: Posh - Da Silva Lopes (foul), Baldwin (foul).
Rochdale: Rafferty (foul), Keane (foul).
Referee: Chris Sarginson 5
Attendance: 4,457 (215 Rochdale).