Well, that was a game and a half. Went ahead, they levelled, went ahead again, they pulled it back again and then we nearly snatched it at the end in a dramatic evening under the floodlights as we changed our system, Posh changed theirs at half time, and we shared four goals - overseen by one of the most inept officials it's been my displeasure to witness.
Barely time to have a think about any new fallout from the weekend's game, and we're off again. Most of us realised at about five past three that Loovens wouldn't be around tonight, and at about twenty to four we thought the same about Hume. Gooch joined them on that list in the second half, despite limping around the front end of the pitch for the latter stages. Add Catts to the mix, and we're four down. Oviedo is a straightforward swap four young Denver, and Ozturk could be likewise for Loovens, but that begs the question of whether Ross will go for three or four at the back, and will he prefer Ozturk to Matthews in the event of the former. In midfield, Power should be in for Catts, and mebbe partnering him with McGeouch might make better use of the space those two occupy. McGeady and O'Nien are the obvious options to take Gooch's place, so there is a fair amount of thinking for Ross to do. The Posh have won all of the away games so far, basing their game on getting the ball out wide quickly and hitting fast players, which could make for a pretty frantic game. Port out, starboard home, P.O.S.H. Posh, with a capital P. Never mind port out, Honeyman was out as well, apparently taking a bang in training, O'Nien was likewise unavailable, so there were changes all over the shop, and some Jack Diamond alongside Kimpioka on the bench.
Matthews Flanagan Baldwin Oviedo
Maguire McGeouch Power McGeady
Old fashioned 4-4-2, and for the first ten minutes, after Peterborough had done the dirty, won the toss, and made us kick off north, we looked lively and dangerous. Then they got to grips with things, and looked just as lively and dangerous. As we didn't have our two most prodigious runner, Gooch and Honeyman, we had to rely on passing the ball more, and as the game wore on, we got rather good at it. Once we'd got over our little period of madness, in which we kept giving it away either in midfield or even defence, we developed partnerships down either wing, with Matthews and Oviedo overlapping as Maguire and McGeady played them in and cut inside. We'd been unable to get on the end of any of crosses from those four, with a couple flashing in from the right and being just inches too far in front of Sinclair. He had a couple of runs against defenders in the box, but some in the crowd felt he could have out in more of a physical challenge - however, the first time he did, outmuscling his marker to win the ball back, a free kick was given. Not for the first time, and certainly not the last, we wondered what the ref was thinking about, as most of the challenges Sinclair took part in involved a handful of his shirt and an arm wrapped around him. Despite our impressive build-up play, chances were not forthcoming, and Maguire tried one with the keeper off his line, but it troubled the North East corner more than the visiting goal.
Peterborough tried to hit us on the break, at times going so narrow that they left great big gaps down the flanks for us to exploit, but Power, captain for the night, took a yellow for getting too physical in breaking up one of their charges forward. With both teams passing it about, it was quite an end to end game, and with twenty minutes gone, it got really interesting. We came down the right, and found Maja in the inside right position in the box, with his back to goal. Despite having a very large defender on his back, he twisted one way then the other, leaving the aforesaid defender all but on his backside, and did what has become quite usual for him - hit it low across the keeper and into the far corner. A goal with more than a hint of Jermain Defoe about it in terms of hold-up and execution. What we needed then was to double our advantage, and we did everything but. McGeady hit two over the top, the first after dropping his shoulder and hitting the ball with the outside of his left foot, then put a header over the top, and Oviedo blasted one wide and one high as we kept the pressure on. Maguire took a high ball well, but the bounce took it away from him, then, as half time approached, we played a great move as McGeady collected Maguire's pass from the right and threaded it through to Maja near the penalty spot. He stopped the ball into Sinclair's path, but with a goal looking inevitable from twelve yards out, the shot flew just wide of the keeper's right-hand post. Damn. There was a solitary added minute, and while we trooped off well worth our lead, we should have been home, dry, and out of sight by the break.
The double substitution by the visitors should have been a hint, but they (eventually, after faffing around with the kick-off, carry on, it's your time you’re wasting) changed their tactics, with the passing game being largely abandoned in favour of punting high balls down the middle. The first of these saw Flanagan take a right bang in the face and spending a good while on the floor after initially trying to get up and wobbling back to the ground. He went off to get glued back together, and in his absence, McLaughlin was forced into a save, Tom reappeared and made his way to mark his assailant, but Baldwin must have spotted his intent and clattered Toney, for it was he, before his defensive marra could get near him. A foul by Flanagan would have almost certainly have received a yellow, so well done Jack. Baldwin had to make a vital block after McLaughlin hit his clearance into a Posh player's backside - the sort of block that earns yellow in the Prem, but goes unpunished in league one, then had to hook another cross away as we began to shake a bit. McLaughlin made another comfortable save, and as the last thirty minutes arrived, got to grips with things again. Power's long passes, and Maguire's cleverness created pressure on the visitors, and again a goal looked likely, but then the ref missed what looked like a foul on Oviedo as he pushed forward, and Bri lost his pip, aiming the most obvious of kicks high up at Maddison. Straight red, with the ref allowing Maddison to stay on the field after treatment, presumably because he doesn't know the rules. There was a bit of nonsense in the technical areas, in which Ross took no part, and their rather chunky manager was shown a yellow card along with one of our coaching staff - I think.
On came James, thankfully another specialist left-back, but it was Maja who made way, when McGeady looked the more tired, Still, I don't make those decisions, Jack Ross does, and we had 25 minutes to hang on. High balls rained down on our central defence, and any free kick given away by us produced more of the same. A cross from their right deflected off Baldwin's knee and fell nicely for Ward, but set himself up nicely and smashed in low to McLaughlin's right. Awwww, bugg
Never mind, we'll just have to win it again, and with the crowd well up for it, we pressed forward. Despite being double-marked, Maguire worked short passes with Matthews and McGeouch down the right, then dropped his shoulder to spin along the line and past his markers, arriving at the goal-line and firing in a low cross that found Sinclair just beyond the front post. Lots of work still to do, but he did it, working just enough space as he turned to fire at shot high into the middle of the goal. Gerrinnnnn! Ten minutes to go, and we had to defend well to keep ourselves ahead - but couldn't hold out. Another high ball, this time straight down the middle, caught us out, and the pesky Toney was through, into the box, and shooting past the helpless McLaughlin. A sickener, it really was, but there were six added minutes announced, so we threw on Kimpioka for Sinclair, and he showed that he's an awkward customer as he ran at the visiting defence, beat three of them, and was then barged to the ground - free kick to Peterborough! Astonishing.
The it was all over. Another draw with ten men thanks to a bit of stupidity by one of our most experienced players. I'm not sure if the ref was deliberately biased or was simply (simply!) thinking "you're not getting decision just because you've got a big, noisy crowd." I'd love to read the assessor's report - I wonder if included the bit about him booking Flanagan after the whistle for (presumably) telling him what we were all thinking. We can moan all we like about him, but it was our own daftness that weakened our team and make the task of holding a lead more difficult - impossible, as it turned out. The Posh came out in the second half to rough us up and succeeded in winding several of our players up and gaining the advantage. We need to learn not to rise to provocation like that, and dish it out ourselves.
Man of the Match? At the risk of getting repetitive, it's Maguire for me. The way he set up the second goal, the way he saw what was coming and made sure the ref had to give us a free kick the way he takes and awkward ball and uses every in of the line to keep the ball moving - he must be a nightmare to play against. An effective game for Power as well, and Matthews was quite effective going forward. As I said at the top of the story, a passing game was forced on us by the change in personnel, and we were actually quite good at it, producing probably the best football we've seen at home this season - but not for the whole 90 minutes. We're still near the top, we're hard to beat, and we're still learning about what our squad can do. Oh, and there's still a long way to go.