A solid start for Peterborough United, but judgement must be reserved
Only fools, or those with a social media addiction, make judgements on one game.
Peterborough United won their opening day game and deservedly so. That might be the only fact of any relevance. Of course they will have to improve on this performance to stay the course, but August predictions of May finishing positions are rather pointless.
Teams will start well and fade away - Posh won their opening four League One matches last season playing better than this and finished ninth - while others will start badly and charge up the table like Plymouth managed last term. It’s always been the case. Let’s get 10 games into this season and see how a squad with more new parts than Cher’s face is shaping up.
Manager Steve Evans handed 11 players - nine from the start - their Posh Football League debuts yesterday (August 4). He would have been impressed with two headed goals before the expected arrival of his targetman striker this week, but less so with a second-half display which invited pressure, albeit from a side with a toothless attack. Bristol Rovers were ideal first day opponents for Posh having also sold their best striker in the summer, but they didn’t manage to replace him leaving goalshy Tom Nichols to forage alone up top.
The bare match statistics (from the BBC so to be taken with a large dollop of salt) were interesting. Rovers apparently won the shot count 18-6 and the corner count 6-1 and yet even in the visitors’ most dominant moments Posh rarely looked in danger of conceding until centre-back Tom Lockyer converted a 93rd minute heading opportunity.
That will be the game management clubs love to bang on about, In Sahara-like conditions it made sense to try and conserve energy, although critics of this manager were quick to point out the handicap of deliberately being outnumbered in midfield. Better sides than Rovers will have seen that as something to exploit.
All that the experienced Evans will have noted. He covered it all in a post-match press conference that confirmed his status as the most interesting managerial orator seen at London Road since Barry Fry.
In a breathless 15 minutes Evans joked (‘Mark O’Hara started the game 6ft 4ins and finished it 4ft 6ins’), moaned (’the referee gave them the chance to score by adding too much time on’), exaggerated (‘Alex Woodyard is the best defensive midfielder in League One’) and dropped big names (Brendan Rodgers this week who rang the Posh boss to congratulate him on signing midfielder O’Hara). He also made his customary plea for more players as 15 new ones hasn’t sated his monster appetite, made a casual dig about previous managers (‘I’m not sure Posh have scored many goals like our two in the previous four years’) and came up with well-intentioned, but nonsensical guff (‘we might have less talent than some, but we have the hearts of Big Ben and King Kong’).
All good knockabout theatre, but it’s promotion-winning Evans Posh fans want to see and hear and this was a good start thanks to a first-minute header from Matt Godden and a later one from O’Hara, a player who apparently ran 14km during the game (eight and a half miles using proper measurements). The perfect crosses were delivered by full-backs Jason Naismith and Colin Daniel and it was good to see the use of an early delivery to a penalty area populated by more than one Posh player.
Young winger Siriki Dembele, who looks like he’d blow over in a stiff breeze, showed some flashes of real quality in those early stages, while captain Woodyard does indeed look a player of some substance. He patrolled the area in front of what might be the biggest back four and goalkeeper in Posh history with great discipline, allowing O’Hara to impersonate Mo Farah.
Posh: Aaron Chapman, Jason Naismith, Colin Daniel, Ryan Tafazolli, Rhys Bennett, Alex Woodyard, Mark O’Hara, Siriki Dembele (sub Louis Reed, 81 mins), Joe Ward, Jason Cummings (sub Callum Cooke, 61 mins), Matt Godden (sub Mathew Stevens, 87 mins). Unused substitutes: Conor O’Malley, Josh Yorwerth, George Cooper, Tyler Denton.
Rovers: Sam Slocombe, Daniel Leadbitter (sub Gavin Reilly, 61 mins), Tom Lockyer, Tony Craig, Ed Upson, Liam Sercombe, Chris Lines, James Clarke, Kyle Bennett (sub Sam Matthews, 67 mins), Alex Rodman, Tom Nichols (sub Bernard Mensah, 70 mins). Unused substitutes: Adam Smith,Tom Broadbent, Michael Kelly, Luke Russe.
Goals: Posh - Godden (1 min), O’Hara (27 mins).
Rovers - Lockyer (90 + 3 mins).
Cautions: Posh - O’Hara (foul).
Rovers - Bennett (dissent), Nichols (foul).
Referee: John Busby 6.
Attendance: 6,439 (803 Rovers).