Posh succumbed to their third consecutive defeat, with Leeds coming away with all the points from London Road.
Darren Ferguson dropped Joe Newell and Paul Taylor to the bench as Grant McCann and Emile Sinclair, his two half-time substitutes in mid-week against Millwall, came into the starting line-up. Posh set-up in what looked like a narrow 4-3-3 formation, with Lee Tomlin and George Boyd tucking in on the wings – the latter playing in a more advanced role than usual, almost acting as a second-striker at times.
The squad had promised a reaction from Tuesday’s defeat to Millwall, in which the performance was dire, but the initial signs were not good. Leeds came out looking like they were determined to win the game. Indeed, with Neil Warnock naming the talented attacking four-some of El Hadji-Diouf, Luke Varney, Luciano Becchio and Ross McCormack all in Leeds’ starting eleven, it suggested that they were at London Road to take all three points.
Straight away the visitors took control, looking to take advantage of any nerves that may have been lingering in Posh’s starting line-up. After Ross McCormack was stupidly fouled on the edge of the box by Shaun Brisley, he stepped up to take the free-kick and drew Bobby Olejnik into an excellent save – the ‘keeper diving to tip the ball over the cross-bar.
The resulting corner caused panic in the Posh box, but was eventually cleared to safety by Kgosi Nthle, who continued at left-back.
The reprieve was short-lived, though, when Michael Bostwick dallied in possession in midfield and was robbed it set-up a Leeds attack. David Norris drove forward with the ball before feeding Ross McCormack. The striker was bearing down on goal and with Olejnik racing out to get down to his feet, he unselfishly slotted the ball back to Becchio who simply side-footed the ball home, despite the efforts of the Austrian goalkeeper.
It would have been easy for Posh to go under now. Already seemingly depleted of confidence and with a frustrated crowd, they could have sunk into their shells and found themselves on the end of a heavy defeat. But, the fans stayed with the team and Posh responded. A Grant McCann corner almost found Gabby Zakuani un-marked, 4 yards out from goal, but the centre-back couldn’t quite get his head on it. However the ball wasn’t cleared and a combination of Brisley and Sinclair tried their best to get a shot in to trouble Paddy Kenny before a Leeds defender could hack it away.
It was a sign that Posh weren’t just going to give up yet. They were determined to give this a go, and despite a poor start they began to look more like a team than they have in any of their league performances so far. Chances, though, were at a luxury with only a glancing Brisley header from a McCann free-kick looking at all like troubling Kenny.
The home side continued to press, but a well organised Leeds United unit were proving hard to break-down: as to be expected from a Neil Warnock side. And, in-fact, the away side could have extended their advantage further after some excellent play from Lee Peltier saw him escape away from Nthle and deliver a floated cross to the far-post which McCormack could only head wide, under pressure from Alcock.
Half-time came with very little other action. Posh had started to impose themselves on the game, but lacked a penetration to their play and their final ball was poor. It was obviously not a fully confident Peterborough United, but neither was it a terrible display, in-fact they may have considered themselves a little unlucky to go behind.
No changes were made from either side after 45 minutes and as the second-half began, it was Leeds who started the brighter – forcing a smart save from Olejnik early on. That said, Posh came as close as they had to scoring moments later as Lee Tomlin drove the ball goal-wards from distance, in the driving rain, but Kenny parried the ball to safety.
It wasn’t long before Posh were punished by their visitors for starting-slowly once again, though. When Ross McCormack found space inside the area he delivered the ball towards Becchio who applied the finishing touches with a header. It was another sign of a strike-force working very effectively: the Argentine forward grabbing his second simple goal of the game thanks to good work from McCormack. However, despite forming an impressive duo, the non-existent marking from Shaun Brisley at the far post made it far too easy for Becchio to score.
It looked like the killer blow for the visitors, who now would have been very confident of taking all three points back to Yorkshire with them, but Lee Tomlin almost gave them something to worry about when his header was tipped onto the bar by Kenny as Posh searched for an immediate response.
The crowd lifted once again, as Posh tried for one last push, and they got their reward when Michael Bostwick smashed home a volley from the edge of the area, leaving Kenny with no chance. Bostwick’s passing performance hadn’t been the best, but his first goal for the club was sure to give himself and Posh some added confidence heading into the last quarter of an hour.
However, the host’s eagerness to grab an equaliser was leaving them exposed at the back and Leeds could well have wrapped all three points when Luke Varney collected the ball and surged forward in a 4-on-2 scenario. With only Zakuani and Little back for Peterborough the odds looked stacked against the defensive duo, but Varney chose to head for the corner and waste some time.
As a result, Posh restored possession and tried to force one last opening as four minutes of injury time were indicated. Danny Swanson, who had looked particularly lively since his introduction, came as close as Posh were to come though when he flicked the ball over a Leeds’ midfielders head before volleying wide from range.
The final whistle confirmed another defeat for Posh, but a solid away win and performance for Leeds who will surely face tougher challenges to their promotion credentials as the season progresses.
Man of the Match
Grant McCann – Brought back into the starting XI after rather strangely being transfer-listed in the summer, the Northern Ireland international’s presence was an immediate boost to the team and you could see why he was missed. At the heart of everything good Posh did, a couple of his set-pieces caused problems and his distribution was, as expected, excellent throughout. Closely challenged by Kgosi Nthle who also put in a stellar effort at left-back.
A much improved performance from Posh, on the whole, but the problems that have plagued us for some time now still exist. We matched Leeds today, a promotion favourite, and a team with a lot of quality, but defensively we let ourselves down. Again.
Worryingly Gabriel Zakuani and Shaun Brisley don’t seem to be comfortable alongside each-other at the heart of the defence. Zakuani is clearly a capable defender at this level, but had a very poor game today. Meanwhile, Brisley looks more and more out of his depth by the game. He’s not good enough to fill the void left by Ryan Bennett and the centre-back position is one that Darren Ferguson should be looking to add to during the rest of the transfer window – even though he has said there will be no more signings.
The problem is without Bennett we lack somebody that is able to carry the ball out of defence and into midfield. With the emphasis that Ferguson places on our passing game, Brisley and Zakuani both have a lot of possession and we rely on the former to link our play up – hitting cross-field passes and searching for options further up-field – but he is not technically good enough to do it.
Enough has been said about Lee Frecklington and Lee Tomlin on here already to repeat it again, but on a positive note Frecklington’s replacement, Danny Swanson, was lively when he came on and is surely pushing for a start. The sooner the former Lincoln man is dropped from this starting line-up the better: it still baffles me why we rejected that £750,000 offer from Swansea a couple of seasons ago; he’s barely worth a tenth of that.
The tempo of our attacking play is still too slow, but there were glimpses of the old Posh out there today. A slightly different system caused problems at times, but still appears too narrow and we miss the natural width that a fully-fit Craig Alcock, or a benched Mark Little offers, at full-back. Sometimes it appears that we are working too hard at hiding our weaknesses that we are forgetting our strengths.
I’m still not convinced that we’ll end up out of the relegation zone at the end of the season, but some more performances like that will see us pick up some wins against lesser opposition. It was far from perfect and there is still much to work on, but it was a start.
Up The Posh!