Would the return of Lee Tomlin force Peterborough United to change their playing style?
Assuming the gifted one was watching, one wonders what Lee Tomlin made of Peterborough United's 1-1 home draw with Walsall yesterday (December 22).
He could be three stone above his best fighting weight and still get in this side on pure ability, that’s beyond dispute, but where does he fit in? His arrival, and we should all offer up a Christmas prayer that the deal isn’t hijacked before January 1, must mean the rigid reliance on 4-4-2 is to be diluted.
Tomlin can’t perform in the middle two, he would be wasted on the wing and he’d probably walk off the pitch (or be sent off in frustration) if he was played up top and force fed the high balls down the middle or the long punts down the channels that were served up by the players as offensive ideas against the Saddlers.
Others must be arriving to make Tomlin’s potential move worthwhile. Midfielders who can get the ball to him quickly and forwards who can match his vision for a start. Maybe they already exist within the squad, but if they do they are hiding those talents, certainly in home matches.
It’s been a frustrating year of football at the ABAX Stadium throughout 2018. Nine wins in 23 League One games is not the sort of ratio that gets a team anywhere near promotion. Yesterday Posh were actually offering thanks to the footballing Gods for a point as Walsall, thumped 4-0 at lowly Bradford City last weekend, spurned a host of chances to romp to victory, most notably an 87th minute penalty which Conor O’Malley, an expert in this particular skill set, saved.
It’s not often opposition managers agree during the post-match debrief, but they did after this game. Walsall manager Dean Keates, who has built a side with the tenacity he often showed when playing in the Posh midfield, said the draw felt like a defeat, while home boss Steve Evans was offering consolation to the visitors at pretty much the same time.
“It was a point gained considering the way the game unfolded,” Evans, who was speaking in a far softer voice than he had employed within the dressing room, admitted. “I’m not interested in draws, but we didn’t have enough players working hard enough.”
Walsall coach Russell Martin, another top Posh player of the recent past, told the Peterborough Telegraph the plan was to match the way Evans’ likes to set his side up. It led to a dismal opening 45 minutes from both sides, but Posh gave the visitors so much space, strangely from the moment Ivan Toney headed Posh level at the start of the second half from a Marcus Maddison corner, they couldn’t help but play their way through and around their hosts for the final half an hour.
Even after the penalty O’Malley, whose late heroics shouldn’t deflect entirely from a jittery start to the game, made a terrific double save to thwart Walsall striker Andy Cook and 15 minutes before it he saved a point-blank header from Josh Gordon. If Cook had scored the winning goal one suspects Evans would have exploded as the burly striker was lucky to stay on the pitch after thrusting an arm in Rhys Bennett’s face in the first-half.
That wasn’t the only uncomfortable moment for Bennett who Posh needed to dominate defensively in the absence of his regular partner Ryan Tafazolli. Instead he chased too many headers he was unlikely to win which increased the pressure on stand-in centre-back Jason Naismith and helped expose two full-backs, Colin Daniel and Joe Ward, who struggled positionally and physically respectively. There had been a few uncoordinated moments before O’Malley’s needless dash from his line in first-half added time was ignored by Bennett enabling Nick Devlin to set up Isaiah Osbourne for an easy headed goal.
Walsall were a threat in the air from the kick-off. Indeed Jon Guthrie should have converted an early corner. When a striker, Ivan Toney, was defending set plays better than any defender there will generally be a problem.
Toney should also be exempt from the criticism of the attacking players if only because of the effort and desire he displayed, Sure he often pops up in areas of the pitch where others are better, but he deserved his 10th goal in his last 10 appearances. It should have arrived earlier in the game but he skewed a golden opportunity wide from the one occasion Posh strung some passes together just before the half hour mark. Louis Reed was the provider before he was hauled off at the break for the more muscular presence of Mark O’Hara - a less surprising substitution that of top scorer Matt Godden for novice forward Matty Stevens early in the second-half while Scottish inetrnational Jason Cummings was left to twiddle his thumbs.
It was all a bit of a mess and with two festive away games to come at teams who have already won at the ABAX this season Posh will have to improve to avoid dropping out of the top six even before Tomlin has put the blue shirt back on.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Joe Ward, Colin Daniel, Rhys Bennett, Jason Naismith, Alex Woodyard, Louis Reed (sub Mark O’Hara, 46 mins), Marcus Maddison, Siriki Dembele (sub George Cooper, 79 mins), Matt Godden (sub Matt Stevens, 56 mins), Ivan Toney.
Unused substitutes: Aaron Chapman, Jason Cummings, Darren Lyon, Tyler Denton.
Walsall: Liam Roberts, Luke Leahy, Jon Guthrie, Nicky Devlin, Kieran Morris, Liam Kinsella, Jack Fitzwater, Kane Wilson, Isiaih Osbourne (sub George Dobson, 73 mins), Josh Gordon, Andy Cook (sub Morgan Ferrier, 80 mins).
Unused substitutes: Chris Dunn, Joe Edwards, Zeli Ismail, Connor Johnson, Connor Ronan.
Goals: Posh - Toney (47 mins).
Walsall - Osbourne (45 + 1 mins).
Cautions: Posh - Maddison (foul), O’Malley (foul).
Walsall - Cook (foul).
Referee: Paul Marsden 8
Attendance: 7,243 (262 Walsall).