Peterborough United have mastered the art of providing late-season cheer.
It’s now three seasons in a row Posh have scored a glut of goals in their final home game of disappointing campaigns. Thirteen have been scored in those matches so perhaps no wonder a healthy number of fans carry confidence and optimism into summer breaks.
It was great to be entertained at the ABAX - a rarity this season - but winning well when the pressure is off is no indicator of great times ahead. Posh played well in their surprise foray into a Premier League title winning formation of 3-5-2, but winning nine of 23 home matches will never lead to promotion - 15 were won when Posh last found their way out of League One.
It’s been a season of consolation prizes. Beating Northampton twice and Craig Mackail-Smith’s 100th Posh goal are two that immediately spring to mind and at least a top half finish will force the doom-mongers to find a different stick with which to beat their chairman as a five-season long lowering of final league position has now been halted.
These same people gloss over the fact it’s taken mighty Sheffield United and their 20,000 gates five years to escape this division, while loan-crazy clubs Swindon and Coventry City have finally paid for poor management and administration with relegation. The Blades even flirted with relegation on a couple of occasions, something Posh have never done since dropping out of the Championship in 2013.
“Decline over,” Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony tweeted after a 4-2 win that ended Bristol Rovers’ hopes of back-to-back promotions. “The climb over the next five years has started.”
The planned summer re-build will probably determine whether or not MacAnthony’s optimism is justified. A fair sprinkling of Academy graduates in one of the better displays of the campaign suggests that re-build might not be that expensive.
Replacing goalkeeper Luke McGee won’t be easy. He’s surely heading for the Championship at least as bigger and better clubs than Posh will have noted his excellence at the ABAX. He even managed to say goodbye to the home fans with a fine penalty save - his fourth of the season - to deny Ellis Harrison a first-half equaliser.
Rovers had to win this this game to keep their season alive which could be why they chose a gung-ho, some would say reckless, 4-2-4 line-up. It helped create space which enabled attacking players on both sides to flourish, but as Graham Westley - a man who appears to have saved Newport County by leaving them - used to say, clinicality was the key and Posh were superior.
Leo Da Silva Lopes scored his first two Football League goals from wing-back, once with a smart finish to open the scoring in the 13th minute and then with a cross that hapless Rovers’ keeper Joe Lumley allowed to squirm through him for 3-0 early in the second-half.
Tom Nichols assisted the first goal and played a part in the second, although not as big a part as Rovers’ defender Ryan Sweeney whose back-header allowed Marcus maddison to nip in and lob Lumley on the half-hour.
Maddison’s superb pass was expertly controlled and despatched by Mackail-Smith for 4-0 25 minutes from time before both players left the field to standing ovations from happy home fans, a new experience for the gifted, yet strangely unloved by many, Maddison.
Rovers rallied to score twice in the final six minutes through substitute Rory Gaffney, but Posh were worthy winners and might just have stumbled on a formation that frees their creative players while retaining defensive security. Rovers did hit the post through a Billy Bodin header late in the first-half, but McGee was generally well protected by those directly in front of him.
The season is not quite completely over for Posh. They still have a say in who goes up to the Championship automatically as they travel to second-placed Bolton who need a point to confirm an immediate return to the second tier.
A win there in front of massive home support will crank up the expectations for 2017-18.
Posh: Luke McGee, Jack Baldwin, Michael Bostwick, Andrew Hughes, Marcus Maddison (sub Andrea Borg, 65 mins), Lewis Freestone, Chris Forrester (sub Brad Inman, 80 mins), Leo Da Silva Lopes, Callum Chettle, Craig Mackail-Smith (sub Junior Morias, 70 mins), Tom Nichols. Unused substitutes: Anthony Grant, Jerome Binnom-Williams, Mark Tyler, Michael Smith.
Bristol Rovers: Joe Lumley, Robert Harris (sub Ryan Broom, 69 mins), James Clarke, Ryan Sweeney, Tom Lockyer, Chris Lines, Stuart Sinclair, Byron Moore, Billy Bodin, Jermaine Easter, Ellis Harrison (sub Rory Gaffney, 63 mins). Unused substututes: Steve Mildenhall, Lee Mansell, Christian Montano, Joe Partington, Jake Clarke-Salter.
Goals: Posh - Da Silva Lopes (13 mins & 54 mins), Maddison (30 mins), Mackail-Smith (64 mins).
Rovers - Gaffney (84 mins & 90 + 2 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Chettle (foul).
Rovers - Sweeney (foul).
Referee: Richard Clark 7
Attendance: 5,498 (814 Rovers).