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These are surreal times at Peterborough United.
Hard luck stories involving hopeless officials and a position in the heat of the battle for the play-offs that defies all logic (their current form belongs in the relgation dogfight) is tempering some criticism of a board who have now promised a long-term job to a manager who has lost five of his first eight matches, the last two against the two worst teams in League One.
I have no problem with the presence of the most successful manager in the club’s history at the ABAX Stadium as he remains the sole successful boss of the Darragh MacAnthony era. I have no problem if a sensible long-term plan is in the offing rather than the hire ‘em, fire ‘em, after signing an entirely new squad, approach of recent times. I do have a problem with the timing of such massive upheaval though.
Just as Steve Evans couldn’t be judged fairly after taking over a Grant McCann squad in February, Darren Ferguson shouldn’t be judged on inheriting a squad at the end of January that never looked a good fit for his footballing philosophy. Evans had his knockers – and antics that shouldn’t really have come as a surprise to anyone with a fleeting knowledge of his career clearly tested the patience of the Posh decision-makers – but he can look on and brag he had this squad in the top six for all but one week of this season. That’s an undeniable fact no matter what anyone thought would happen in the future.
Evans is history now though, as should be the chances of promotion in the 2018-19 campaign, and yet remarkably Posh now have two home games when a decent points return would probably enable them to overtake McCann’s Doncaster and climb into the final play-off spot. While Posh are hosting play-off rivals Coventry and ailing Southend, Donny are taking on Barnsley and Luton, the two best teams in the division. The incompetence of Posh and Donny in recent weeks – they’ve fallen 11 and 10 points respectively behind fifth-placed Charlton – has given hope to others though and it could well come down to a mental as well as physical contest.
Fortunately Posh do have a manager who has been there and done it, albeit a long time ago, but he has yet to come up with a winning formula with this set of players even though there are glimpses of an attempt to play more attractive football.
Last night (March 12) at AFC Wimbledon Fergie sacrificed Lee Tomlin’s talents to play Ivan Toney in a two-man strike force and restored Louis Reed and Rhys Bennett to the starting line-up with mixed results. Reed looks far more like a Fergie player than the man he replaced, club captain Alex Woodyard, given he can pass the ball accurately and quickly, but Bennett, who has become accident prone after a strong start to his London Road career, conceded the 87th-minute penalty that condemned Posh to a 1-0 defeat against committed, but limited, opposition.
It was a howler of a decision by referee Ollie Yates who must have the eyes of an eagle to be certain Bennett fouled lively substitute Dylan Connelly from his position way behind play. He compounded that error by sending Bennett off before Joe Piggott calmly converted the spot-kick.
Yates, who was sent a metaphorical P45 by Oxford boss Karl Robinson at the weekend, had enjoyed a quiet match upto that point. He finished the contest in style though by flashing yellow cards at Ferguson and Reed, both for questioning his competence.
But should a late penalty against this standard of opposition really have mattered when promotion is a club’s aim? Not really. Posh were tardy for the opening half an hour, but missed their own chance to take the points during a dominant middle period when Toney lost a one-on-one with home ‘keeper Aaron Ramsdale, shot badly wide with a first-time shot from Jason Naismith’s cross and saw a marginal offside decision go against him after Ramsdale had spilled a Naismith shot into his path.
Marcus Maddison also tested Ramsdale, while Bennett had a close range header from a corner turned behind. Dons pressed hard for the winning goal they needed in the final 10 minutes when Connolly struck the crossbar and substitute Tomlin had to hack a Will Nightingale header off the line.
Ultimately it was another demoralising defeat for Posh who now need to hope their attacking excellence in their last home match against Wycome wasn’t a one-off.
Posh: Conor O’Malley, Jason Naismith, Rhys Bennett, Ben White, Joe Ward, Daniel Lafferty, Louis Reed, Callum Cooke (sub Kyle Dempsey, 77 mins), Marcus Maddison, Ivan Toney, Matt Godden (sub Lee Tomlin, 82 mins).
Peterborough United manager blames the referee and the lack of a ruthless streak for defeat at League One’s worst team
Unused Substitutes: Aaron Chapman, Kyle Dempsey, Alex Woodyard, Ryan Tafazolli, Matt Stevens, Tyler Denton.
Wimbledon: Aaron Ramsdale, Will Nightingale, Terrell Thomas, Scott Wagstaff (sub Dylan Connelly, 66 mins), Anthony Hartigan (sub Joe McDonnell, 80 mins), Toby Sibbick, Paul Kalambayi, Anthony Wordsworth, Steven Seddon, Michael Folivi (sub James Hanson, 66 mins), Joe Pigott.
Unused substitutes: Tennai Watson, Mitch Pinnock, Andy Barcham, Shane McLaughlin.
Goals: Dons – Piggott (pen, 86 mins).
Sending-off: Posh – Bennett (Denying a goal scoring opportunity).
Cautions: Posh – Maddison (foul), Reed (dissent), Ferguson (manager,
Dons – Sibbick (foul).
Referee: Ollie Yates 6
Attendance: 3,737 (307 Posh).