Off the field this Peterborough United season is turning into a battle between ideologues and pragmatists.
The former will only celebrate Posh victories when they’ve played like Manchester City. It’s an apparent outrage that Mark O’Hara can’t pass the ball like David Silva.
Others are happy to see their team fourth in League One, two points off second, with 11 wins (only the top two can boast more) and 38 goals scored (only two teams can boast more). Five defeats in 28 competitive matches suggests Marmite manager Steve Evans has built a team that’s hard to beat, not for the first time in his career.
There may well come a time when this campaign is written off as a failure. Now is obviously not that time, although one suspects automatic promotion would be treated with a shrug of the shoulders by some who would point to the weakness of the opposition as a reason as if that was the responsibility of anyone at London Road.
The devil is always in the detail. In three recent matches, including an FA Cup tie, Posh have thrown away victories by conceding late goals. This is obviously a cause of great frustration. It’s probably a reason for the high levels of anxiety at the ABAX Stadium, but it’s worth pointing out Posh have actually lost just six points from winning positions this season (two against Blackpool, Coventry and now Oxford) but picked up nine after falling behind in games. Still don’t let the facts get in the way of a rant.
Evans shared the fans’ frustration yesterday (December 8). Posh could easily have seen off Oxford in the first 20 minutes such was the terror strikers Ivan Toney and Matt Godden were inflicting on a shaky back four, but they couldn’t build on the former’s fine 10th-minute goal.
And they clearly should have won the match after re-taking the lead through Siriki Dembele’s 25-yard blast 15 minutes from time. They would have done so comfortably if substitute Jason Cummings hadn’t then muffed a sitter and if full-back Colin Daniel hadn’t made a silly challenge which enabled the game’s outstanding player James Henry to claim an 88th minute equaliser from the penalty spot. It was Henry’s second goal of the game and he was denied a third in the first-half by a late offside flag from an assistant referee (the officials were generally hopeless all afternoon) and by a decent low save from Posh goalkeeper Aaron Chapman after the break.
It all left Evans lamenting the loss of Jack Marriott, a matchwinner in the Championship again yesterday, in the summer. He might also have been rueing the more surprising departure of left-back Andrew Hughes to the second tier.
“Last season’s striker would have scored two yesterday,” Evans sighed. “He would have buried Matt Godden’s chance 30 seconds after the first goal and obviously Jason should have scored late on.
“Those misses wouldn’t have mattered though if Colin Daniel hadn’t had another rush of blood in the penalty area. That’s three penalties he’s conceded now by diving in unnessarily. One can be an accident, two might be a wee issue, but three is too many.”
Players have the power to make managers look like a genius or a fool. They are clearly still performing for their boss as effort levels remain high, but there are obvious issues that need addressing. Players comfortable in a formation other than 4-4-2 might be a priority in the forthcoming transfer window. It’s doubtful the admirable Joe Ward will be a long-term solution at right-back. He was close enough to the play to hamper Henry’s first goal, a delicious 25 yard shot into the top corner towards the end of the first-half.
Once they settled down yesterday Oxford, who haven’t won an away game in League One all season, caused problems with a midfield that was far more fluent than the one wearing blue. The visitors were weak defensively though, and they possessed a striker in Jamie Mackie who looked more interested in physical intimidation than in scoring a goal, so they really should have been seen off after falling behind twice. Toney’s first-time finish after Godden had nodded Rhys Bennett’s chip into his path on 10 minutes was instantly followed by Oxford ‘keeper Simon Eastwood kicking shots from Godden and Daniel away from danger. The failure of Marcus Maddison to get involved on a regular basis was a huge disappointment.
That’s the way it’s going for Posh at home though. Four wins in 11 outings at the ABAX is hardly promotion form. Thankfully seven wins from 10 away matches most certainly is.
Posh: Aaron Chapman, Joe Ward, Colin Daniel, Rhys Bennett, Ryan Tafazolli, Alex Woodyard, Louis Reed (sub Mark O’Hara, 71 mins), Marcus Maddison, Siriki Dembele, Matt Godden (sub Jason Cummings, 71 mins), Ivan Toney.
Unused substitutes: George Cooper, Sebastien Bassong, Conor O’Malley, Matty Stevens, Jason Naismith,
Oxford: Simon Eastwood, Gavin Whyte, Rob Dickie, John Mousinho (sub Ricky Holmes, 80 mins), Curtis Nelson, Jamie Hanson, Marcus Browne, Josh Ruffels, Cameron Brannagan, James Henry, James Mackie.
Unused substitutes: Jon Mitchell, Cameron Norman, Luke Garbutt, Sam Smith, Charlie Raglan, Sam Long.
Goals: Posh - Toney (10 mins), Dembele (75 mins).
Oxford - Henry (42 mins & pen, 88).
Cautions: Posh - Woodyard (deliberate handball), Ward (foul).
Oxford - Mackie (persistent infringements), Browne (foul), Nelson (foul)
Referee: Charles Breakspear 4
Attendance: 7,027 (534 Oxford).