REPORT – POSH 2, MILLWALL 1: The jewels in the diamond sparkle as Peterborough United triumph

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 11 – the day the Peterborough United charge to Championship safety began.

By Reporter
Saturday, 11th December 2021, 5:24 pm
Updated Saturday, 11th December 2021, 7:04 pm
Jonson Clarke-Harris of Peterborough United celebrates scoring the winning goal against Millwall - Mandatory by-line: Joe Dent/JMP.
Jonson Clarke-Harris of Peterborough United celebrates scoring the winning goal against Millwall - Mandatory by-line: Joe Dent/JMP.

Of course, only time will tell if the above statement proves to be true, but Darren Ferguson’s men provided early festive cheer aplenty with an excellent performance and an essential result as they saw off Millwall 2-1 at the Weston Homes Stadium.

Posh hadn’t won since October 23, hadn’t scored since November 2 and found themselves five points from safety at the start of play – but the jewels in the diamond formation made a mockery of those sorry statements.

A second-half turnaround featuring two goals in four minutes (and a return of the Jonson Clarke-Harris we all know and love) earned a deserved victory but did nothing to highlight the dominance displayed against opponents on the fringes of the play-off race.

Posh possessed style, swagger and steel to provide serious hope of surviving in the second tier with Clarke-Harris climbing off the bench to spearhead their success by forcing the equalising own goal and then tucking away the decider.

The only surprise was it took so long for Posh’s control to be seen in the scoreline on an afternoon when they were almost always the better and more threatening side.

Posh boasted close to three-quarters of the possession in the opening half and had more than double the number of attempts on goal than the Lions managed.

In fact the only area in which Millwall enjoyed an advantage at the interval (other than the foul and card count of course) was the goals column.

Their opener arrived in the 16th minute when Scott Malone’s pass into space on the left side was expertly controlled by the head of the advancing Jed Wallace who then delivered a precise low cross from Tom Bradshaw to slot his third goal in as many games past Dai Cornell with ease.

Oh to have a frontman in that sort of form . . .

Posh didn’t even select a recognised striker in their starting XI for a fixture in which they were attempting to snap their most barren run for almost 20 years.

Ferguson’s preference was a considerably more mobile combination of Siriki Dembele and Sammie Szmodics at the sharp end of his side.

Szmodics regularly darted into decent positions with Dembele always attempting to avoid the attention of shirt-pulling, ankle-raking opponents as he dropped between the lines.

The midfield was equally as busy and, in the case of Jorge Grant in particular, elusive as he was involved in many of Posh’s most promising passages of play – such as the slick move just after the half-hour that left Dembele bursting into the box only to see his shot blocked by defender Murray Wallace.

Grant then saw a 25-yard blast tipped over by Bartosz Bialkowski as Posh continued in the ascendancy early in the second half.

Substitute Joe Tomlinson – an early replacement for Dan Butler who succumbed to injury inside the opening 10 minutes following a strong challenge with Millwall man Danny McNamara - then tested the Lions keeper with a lower effort from distance.

Tomlinson’s emergence from the Posh wilderness for the first time since mid-September - and for just a fourth appearance in all since his summer arrival from National League side Eastleigh - was impressive with him looking assured on the ball and being responsible for some dangerous set-piece deliveries.

A dancing Dembele run towards the box was crudely halted by Billy Mitchell, who became the fourth of five Millwall men to be booked, and it was during that stoppage in play that Ferguson sent on Clarke-Harris to replace Szmodics in what quickly became an inspired and perfectly-timed change.

Millwall defender McNamara’s desperate attempt to prevent the frontman reaching a clipped Jack Taylor pass only led to an own goal which deservedly brought Posh level in the 64th minute.

Clarke-Harris then crashed a fierce cross-shot against the legs of Bialkowski from the tightest of angles as Posh continued to pound on the Millwall door - and it was soon opened again.

The resulting corner was initially cleared but the ball was returned with interest as Josh Knight’s curling cross was given added oomph by a flick from the head of Nathan Thompson and landed perfectly on the left boot of Clarke-Harris at the back post with 68 minutes on the clock.

The Millwall response was a Bradshaw blast spectacularly parried by Cornell ahead of a triple substitution (including the introduction of two strikers) but Posh’s control of the contest never weakened.

Of course there was the odd moment of threat – such as when Knight bravely threw himself in the way of a shot from substitute Sheyi Ojo – but Ferguson’s men saw it out remarkably comfortably given the pressure they must have felt.

Their fifth Championship victory was arguably their best and certainly won’t be their last on the evidence of this 90 minutes.

Posh: Dai Cornell, Dan Butler (Joe Tomlinson 11) , Ronnie Edwards, Josh Knight, Nathan Thompson, Oliver Norburn, Jack Taylor (Conor Coventry 88), Jorge Grant, Harrison Burrows, Siriki Demble, Sammie Szmodics (Jonson Clarke-Harris 56)

Subs not used: Will Blackmore, Frankie Kent, Kwame Poku, Kai Corbett,

Millwall: Bartosz Bialkowski, Scott Malone (Sheyi Oyo 74), Jake Cooper, Sam Hutchinson, Dan McNamara, Billy Mitchell, George Evans, Jed Wallace (Mason Bennett 74), Tom Bradshaw, Benik Afobe (Matt Smith 74)

Subs not used: George Long, Maikel Keiftenbeld, Alex Pearce, George Saville,

Goals: McNamara own goal 64mins, Clarke-Harris 68mins

Cautions: Posh- Norburn 24mins, Cornell 90+3mins

Millwall- Malone 22mins, McNamara 38mins, Hutchinson 45+1mins, Mitchell 55mins, Evans 62mins

Referee: Leigh Doughty

Attendence: 9,140