Peterborough United’s hopes of a glorious league campaign – a campaign in which we were set to get promoted automatically – was doomed from 24th September 2013, at around four minutes to eight, as Ki Sung-Yeung delivered a shattering blow to Lee Tomlin’s ankle.
That’s not to say there haven’t been other factors which have led to Posh’s mid-season capitulation. But in my opinion it was that ‘fateful night’ which proved to be the catalyst.
Before that game, Tomlin had scored seven goals in 11 League One appearances and his partnership with record-signing Britt Assombalonga was flourishing. Meaning, whilst Posh were broadly scraping through games by the skin of their teeth, Darren Ferguson had a strike force capable of bailing the team out. Even if Posh were looking as defensively porous as a sheet of crêpe paper, whilst also seemingly becoming a team who were incapable of holding onto the ball, for more than five passes.
Lee Tomlin, no matter his faults was by far the best player in League One on his day.
Of course the problem was that day tended to be infrequent, due to his abysmal disciplinary record and even more appalling temper. The injury against Sunderland led to Tomlin being ruled out for around six weeks and after that lay-off, his patience with a club who had blocked his chances of Champions League football at the Nou Camp – so he could slog it out at Stevenage – had finally snapped. A mission of self-destruction, leading to numerous cautions and sending off, made Tomlin’s departure to Middlesbrough on transfer deadline day – whilst being a surprise, in its announcement – something any Posh fan knew was coming sooner or later, a reality.
His departure left a team who were dreadfully bereft of confidence, short of creativity as well.
Arguably the next in the line to fill the role of creator in this Posh team, is Danny Swanson. A player who since arriving at the club, has confused most fans, with his inability to pass, tackle and generally perform in the manner expected for a midfielder who arrived at the club with the tag of ‘the most technically gifted player’ an international manager had worked with. Sure, that manager may have been Scotland’s doomed Craig Levein – a man who attempted to play a 4-6-0 with some of the most technically inept footballers around – but Swanson arrived with high expectations. Expectations which the Scotsman has failed to meet, barring some fleeting glimpses of quality recently (notably Crewe, where he played more as a winger, not as a number 10).
Posh’s lack of creativity was probably best displayed last Tuesday against visiting Bristol City. Two early goals from once Posh target Sam Baldock and an early sending off for City’s Adam El-Abd for a clash with Assombalonga meant whilst Posh were 2-0 down – they had 70 minutes against 10 men. A goal from a corner, scored by centre-back or midfielder (who bloody knows at the moment) Michael Bostwick before half-time meant Posh went in, with voices around London Road chattering about a come-back.
However it was in these 45 minutes where Posh’s tremendous lack of creativity – a lack of almost any willingness to take a risk – was exposed. Posh’s midfield consisted at that point of Grant McCann, Michael Bostwick, on-loan Josh McQuoid and striker Nicky Ajose; a group of players who consistently over that 45 minute period stuttered and stumbled in their attempts to break down an incredibly stubborn Bristol City defence. When it looked like a defence splitting pass was available for any of the four – a pass which would have unleashed Assombalonga or new boy Conor Washington – they faltered and bottled it, playing the safe square ball across the penalty box, which allowed Bristol City to consistently park 10 men behind the ball and scupper Posh’s feeble advances.
I suppose it’s worth mentioning that the midfielders tasked with unlocking the Bristol defence weren’t helped by the incredible lack of movement and guile showed by Assombalonga and Washington. For the second half they seemed glued to the sides of Karleigh Osborne and Brendan Maloney – showing a frightening apprehension at the thought of coming dropping off either of the defenders to make a run towards the ball.
Posh may have peppered Frank Fielding’s goal with shots, but the eventual result was a dismal defeat for Darren Ferguson’s men. The result and performance led to a Tim Sherwood-esque blasting of the Peterborough United playing staff by Fergie Jnr.
Was it justified? Arguably yes. The Posh first half performance was atrocious, and for a team with ambitions of promotions via the play-offs the defending was utterly laughable.
The next three games against (sort-of) rivals MK Dons, Rotherham and Preston will be telling. Often it’s against the best teams in this league where Posh have performed best this season. But after such dismal defeat midweek, this Posh team will need to muster all of their character to get any semblance of a play-off promotion push back on track.
Written by John Fernandez, We Are Going Up’s Peterborough United Blogger
John tweets @johnfernandez1