IN a recent e-mail to this paper Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony described the Championship season so far as a ‘lot of fun’.
Fifty-three goals in 14 matches and an abundance of refereeing slapstick would suggest he had a point.
Entertainment is never far away and even the footballing public of Watford, a species known for the permanent furrow in their brow, had a good time this weekend. A team who had scored four goals in their six previous home games bagged three more in little more than half-an-hour to end a run of four straight defeats.
One suspects that now, after a series of explosive encounters, a good old fashioned 1-0 win from the 1990s Arsenal handbook or the current Hull version would be high on Darren Ferguson’s Christmas wish-list.
Before this game the Posh boss emphasised the need for clean sheets to keep his side in the top half of the table. It may not have been a co-incidence that a couple of his players even went on a promotional visit to a local dry cleaners last week.
But those plans were extinguished inside five minutes by a weak defensive header from Mark Little and some poor marking, and any hope of some attacking excellence papering over this rather worrying trend were buried in three mad minutes featuring Posh skipper Grant McCann.
Now when Lee Tomlin commits an act of stupidity, knowing looks of the ‘not surprised’ variety are cast. When McCann, the wise old head, midfield maestro and play-off hero, suffers a brainstorm, the shock is more palpable.
After Lee Frecklington had equalised Mark Yeates’ early goal for Watford with a rasping drive into the roof of the net, the superior passing skills and general technique of the visitors appeared to be getting on top.
Indeed McCann was soon striking the base of a post with a trademark free-kick and watching aghast as George Boyd, who had created Frecklington’s goal with a lovely floated pass, muffed his attempt to score from the rebound.
But in a weekend of clock adjustments, McCann must still want the period of 3.30-3.33pm on Saturday back. First his needless grab of Prince Bauben’s arm enabled the exotically-named midfielder to fall over and win a penalty.
And a couple of minutes later the entire Posh defence charged out in an attempt to win an offside decision from a free-kick conceded by their captain. Actually ‘entire’ is an exaggeration as McCann was stood sheepishly on the six-yard line as Marvin Sordell, who had also converted the spot-kick, headed home past the unprotected Paul Jones.
There was still time in a breathless first half, which also included home keeper Scott Loach making fine saves from Paul Taylor and Frecklington, for Emile Sinclair to pounce on Taylor’s pass and end his own recent goal drought and give Posh hope that they could deliver another of their stunning fightbacks.
Confidence would have been high during the half-time team talk as Watford were playing little football themselves other than the direct kind to immobile centre-forward Chris Iwelumo.
But the home side defended deep and in numbers in the second half as Posh quickly ran out of ideas.
Ferguson changed his own shape to 4-3-3, but surprisingly delayed changes in personnel until the final minutes and aside from a couple of close chases by Sinclair and a low drive from Ryan Tunnicliffe which was pushed away by Loach, Posh rarely threatened a committed and well-drilled home defence expertly marshalled by debutant Nyron Nosworthy, a footballer with a bigger chest than Katie Price.
Yeates even came close to adding a fourth Watford goal with a free-kick which rattled the cross-bar 10 minutes after the re-start. Jones denied Sordell his hat-trick with a superb save from the striker’s follow-up.
Posh were too poor in the second half to make up for the individual errors of the first. In 10 of their 14 Championship outings they’ve conceded the opening goal of the game and the sad demise of one-time Peterborough resident Jimmy Saville over the weekend means one last avenue to fix the problem has been closed.
Posh – Frecklington (15 mins), Sinclair (38 mins).
Watford – Yeates (5 mins), Sordell (pen, 31 mins & 33 mins).
CAUTIONS: Watford – Hogg (foul).
REFEREE: Andy D’Urso (Essex) 7
ATTENDANCE: 15,031 (1,986 Posh)
Scott Loach: 7
Lee Hodson: 7
Carl Dickinson: 6
Nyron Nosworthy: 8
Adrian Mariappa: 7
Prince Bauben: 6
Jonathan Hogg: 6
Craig Forsyth: 6
Mark Yeates: 7
Chris Iwelumo: 6
Marvin Sordell: 8
Troy Deeney: (for Deeney, 84 mins).
Ross Jenkins: (for Iwelumo, 88 mins).
David Mirfin: (not used).
Joe Garner: (not used).
Jonathan Bond: (not used).
PAUL JONES 6
Poorly protected again, one marvellous second-half stop to keep Posh in game
MARK LITTLE 6
Weak defensive header helped Watford to early lead, never able to get going in attack
TOM KENNEDY 7
Very steady return to action, excellent one-on-one defender
RYAN BENNETT 7
Mopped up plenty of potential danger
GABY ZAKUANI 6
Had his hands full with Iwelumo and Sordell, gave his all as usual
GRANT McCANN 5
Will rue a crazy five minutes which cost his side two goals
LEE FRECKLINGTON 8
Quality finish and at the hub of most positive moments before break
RYAN TUNNICLIFFE 7
Brings power, drive and athleticism to the midfield
GEORGE BOYD 7
Lively first half included an assist for opening goal, denied space to operate second half
PAUL TAYLOR 6
Ball is glued to his feet at times, but needs to get his head up quicker. Assist for second goal
EMILE SINCLAIR 7
A fine finish will do wonders for his confidence, ran hard all afternoon
David Ball: (for McCann, 86 mins).
Tommy Rowe: (not used).
Danny Kearns: (not used).
Josh Thompson: (not used).
Joe Lewis: (not used).