Fourth official Rob Smith had spent the afternoon making the substitutes’ board look more difficult to work out than the Hadron Collider.
So no surprise that he was the man behind the most baffling of red cards for Posh midfielder Jermaine Anderson - a player having a rough deal at the hands of incompetent officials this season - in yesterday’s (September 19) worthy 1-1 League One draw with in-form Walsall at the ABAX Stadium.
Anderson, a gentle pacifist, was dismissed six minutes from time for lobbing a water bottle into the crowd. His crime was inaccuracy rather than malicious intent. He could be the first person in the history of football to be dismissed for non-violent, violent conduct against one of his side’s own supporters. It was an under-arm throw that led to a complete over-reaction from the officials, particularly after viewing the antics at Stamford Bridge earlier in the day when a certain player was allowed to stay on the pitch after pushing, shoving, elbowing and appearing to scratch an opponent.
It would be fascinating to see how Smith operated with a whistle in his mouth. Clear the ball into the crowd at your peril - he might well think you were trying to harm someone.
Posh will surely get the red card rescinded on appeal - although there is a worrying lack of video evidence - but indirectly the incident helped Grant McCann’s side gain a point. Posh were struggling to recover following Romaine Sawyers’ wonderful strike for Walsall eight minutes after the break, but, possibly angered by the ill treatment of a mate, they rallied and substitute Michael Bostwick both earned and converted a penalty three minutes later and four minutes from time.
It is likely to be McCann’s last game in charge and he can bow out for now with head held high after master-minding four points from two matches and for putting a smile back on the faces of fans and players alike. Some of the post-match reaction regarding the merits of the Posh display was rather over-the-top, but at least having a game-plan and an attractive footballing philosophy was an improvement on what had gone before this season.
As expected the second-placed Saddlers were a far superior outfit than the Oldham outfit despatched with ease the week before. The visitors get the ball down and play. They were hampered by the terrible delivery of a final ball before the break, but they were dominant after the interval before Bostwick’s spot-kick leveller - it was a goal that denied Walsall top spot and kept Posh out of the bottom four - and after it. Posh ‘keeper Ben Alnwick splendidly tipped over an injury-time header from Milan Lalkovic before Sam Mantom’s 25-yard piledriver smacked the crossbar in the 95th minute.
But passing the ball in all areas and resisting the urge to lump the ball forward either by design or in a panic ensured the home crowd was more tolerant than of late. Posh lost the ball in bad areas at times - usually when physical lightweights Chris Forrester or Erhun Oztumer were brushed off the ball - but they stuck to the principles of their manager gamely and never lost the crowd even though they failed to create a single, obvious goal-scoring chance.
Oztumer tested visiting goalkeeper Neil Etheridge with a 20-yard curler in the first-half following great persistence by Souleymane Couilbaly, but otherwise Etheridge was more occupied punching crosses clear until substitute Jon Taylor pressured Walsall defender Jason Demetriou into an error (ironically in pursuit of a long ball) tempting the keeper to send Bostwick to the floor, albeit with very little contact.
Walsall manager Dean Smith was understandably frustrated to drop a couple of points in such circumstances, but his own own side hardly created a glut of chances despite enjoying plenty of possession. Top scorer Tom Bradshaw was an anonymous presence which speaks well of Posh central defenders Gaby Zakuani and Ricardo Almeida Santos.
Reece Flanagan had two decent sights of Alnwick’s goal in the first-half, but failed to deliver. Bradshaw’s sole half-chance ended with a 12-yard header drifting wide of a post.
Whether or not the new manager retains the midfield diamond preferred by McCann is open to debate. The players clearly enjoy it and it appears to suit the likes of Forrester and Oztumer, two raw talents who are comfortable on the ball and can keep possession in crowded areas.
Oztumer added to his vast collection of man-of-the-match prizes, but will win even more when his release of the ball co-incides more regularly with the movement of his team-mates. Anderson didn’t have the greatest passing day (with ball or bottle), but he looks powerful and athletic, something this squad needs.
Lee Angol also showed up well in the early stages, but strike partner Coulibaly is already on target to break Andy Clarke’s Posh record of most offsides in a season.
Posh: Ben Alnwick, Michael Smith, Callum Elder, Gaby Zakuani, Ricardo Santos, Chris Forrester (sub Michael Bostwick, 82 mins), Jermaine Anderson, Erhun Oztumer, Marcus Maddison (sub Jon Taylor, 61 mins), Souleymane Coulibaly, Lee Angol (sub Conor Washington, 75 mins). Unused substitutes: Dion-Henry Curtis, Jack Collison, Alex Davey, Leo Da Silva Lopes.
Walsall: Neil Etheridge, Jason Demetriou, Andy Taylor (sub Anthony Forde, 82 mins), Rico Henry, Paul Downing, James O’Connor, Adam Chambers, Sam Mantom, Romaine Sawyers, Reece Flanagan (sub Jordan Cook, 69 mins), Tom Bradshaw (sub Milan Lalkovic, 69 mins). Unused substitutes: Craig MacGillivray, James Baxendale, Anthony Forde, Matt Preston, Kieron Morris.
Goals: Posh - Bostwick (86 mins, pen)
Walsall - Sawyers (53 mins).
Sending off: Posh - Anderson (violent conduct)
Referee: Mark Heywood 7
Attendance: 5,839 (387 Walsall).