Fan’s View – 2019/20 – no.39 – Peterborough away

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, February 9th, 2020  

PETERBOROUGH UNITED 4 OXFORD UNITED 0

Every match is to some extent informative but some much more so than others. The outcome of this fixture was going to tell us much. I travelled fearing that we could get beaten by a couple of goals, or possibly more, but also carried reasonable hope that this would not be so and we would return in positive frame of mind for the rest of the season.

There’s no getting away from the fact that we were hammered and embarrassingly so particularly given that Posh got two of their goals after they had been reduced to ten men. They are a very good side and were streets ahead of us. On the day and since the turn of the year. As are Rotherham and Coventry who I tipped to win the title a couple of weeks back. Pompey, Sunderland and Ipswich are all big clubs that will probably be there or thereabouts. And whatever one says about Wycombe they are still above us with nine more points having played two games more. Games in hand are little use if they’re not won.

For us automatic promotion looks about as likely as starting the 2020/21 campaign playing in a four sided ground. We’ll do well to somehow scrape into the last play-off spot. I have not entirely written that proposition off but our league form this calendar year says the likelihood is low. Indeed the rate we’re now picking up points is so poor that if we don’t address this quickly our final total will be a few shy of what we achieved last season.

I don’t feel any inclination to turn on any player, the management or the owners but the way things are going at present what could have been a season to remember for all the right reasons is in danger of petering out to nothing. Forget, well almost, the cup exploits because it is league position on which a team is genuinely judged.

Some of the Oxford flags. The steward refused to allow me to take a step beyond him to take a better picture so I had to lean round and do my best. I had asked politely.

The 862 away fans provided good noise throughout in the circumstances and many even clapped the players off at the end. I didn’t detect any dissent. The view from the Main Stand is quite a good one but the prices charged, £26 for an adult if purchased in advance or £28 on the day, are a bit excessive. The toilet facilities are still sub-standard, but hey we’re just football supporters.

Until the first goal this was an even affair with both teams keeping the ball quite well but not really threatening much. That’s all well and good provided your team is ready to step it up a notch when the next phase of the game arrives. We had almost nothing in this regard and once Peterborough got their noses in front we never got anywhere near them.

There’s clearly something wrong defensively when so many goals are shipped. We might have had a lot of possession (63%) making more passes than the hosts, 477 to 290, but it’s what a team does with the ball when they have it that counts. We didn’t do a lot to hurt Peterborough and for all this never controlled any part of the game. Our strike force was pretty much non-existent. Matty Taylor was quite anonymous and Marcus Browne wasn’t involved much either. Whose fault that it is I don’t know but perhaps we need a serious tactical review. Or perhaps we have not got the players after all to take us onto the next level.  As it is we appear to be slipping back to a level below that which we thought we’d now anchored ourselves at.

The first goal came on 36 minutes. A Simon Eastwood goal-kick was won by a blue head but sent the ball straight to Cameron Brannagan. He controlled it and turned backwards as if by instinct. I had him down as someone a bit more positive than that but at this stage of the game if it was all about keeping possession then so be it but I thought there were players available a bit up-field who should have been able to control and retain the ball. CB’s backward pass went straight to Ivan Toney who quickly moved it on to Sammie Szmodics who in turn got it to the unmarked Siriki Dembele. The finish gave Eastwood no chance. We’d shot ourselves in the foot and as it turned out shot our chances of getting anything from the game to pieces at the same time.

Before the half was up we nearly went two behind when in one incident we needed block after block in the six yard box to prevent our goal being breached again. You could argue that this was ultimately good defending but it was an indication that they could quite easily get us on the ropes and give us a kicking.

Number two came eleven minutes after the restart.  Left back Dan Butler was allowed to run from his own half and keep going. No-one went to him. We backed off. A team full of energy and belief would have had someone snapping at him from close range with another poised to pick up any pieces that may materialise. A team playing in such a way can appear to have more than eleven players performing for them.  We somehow were managing to make it look like we were down on numbers.

Szmodics was free (a common theme) to Butler’s left and his low centre was arrowed into the roof of the net from close range by a sliding in Toney. Mous and Josh Ruffels might as well not have been there. Putting aside the fact that Peterborough are a quality side and Toney is the best striker in L1 we were making it so easy for them and handing over the three points on a plate.

Nathan Thompson, ex-Swindon as if one couldn’t guess by the reaction of the Oxford fans, rightly got a second yellow for bringing down Browne on the edge of the box as he executed a neat turn. I don’t think it was malicious but for once the skill of an Oxford player had won out. Did we score from the free-kick? Of course not.

Fourteen minutes later ten man Posh did. This was hit low and hard from the angle of the penalty area and was probably a shot in itself but Toney was onto it in a flash helping it emphatically past Eastwood who again was blameless. Why we didn’t have a defender marking, or at least attempting to mark, Toney I don’t know. Forward Browne had that role whether by design or default. More play by us that was no way good enough. These incidents were not one offs.

At three down we had a little go but Nathan Holland’s side footed effort, after being set up by Jamie Mackie, was wastefully put over the bar suggesting his moment of supreme class against the Magpies may have been more the exception than the rule. The closest we actually came was when Christy Pym had to make a last ditch save after Ruffels had got on the end of a high cross.

Nine minutes of added time was a surprise but even if it had been ninety more I would not have held out any hope.

When the next goal came in those additional moments it went the way of the home side once more to complete our humiliation. Toney, who had been helping out at the back, played a ball into the sky but he knew what he was doing having seen the run of Szmodics. Sam Long couldn’t get a leg to the ball let alone control it. Szmodics took possession and fed Josh Knight. Brannagan was trailing in his wake and our lack of pace and covering at the back had been exposed again. Some people may write this last goal off as just one of those things as we were pushing forward with nothing to lose. I’d say no, this shows the stark reality of some of our weaknesses that have recently become exposed.

Oh yes, Knight finished it off naturally and Easty was once more without fault.

It’s difficult to sniff out any positive spin but I’ll give it a try. Posh are the form side of the division and whilst we were playing out 120 minutes against a Premier League side on Tuesday they were resting up. I’d like to think this was a one off but I’m not so sure.

The league table doesn’t make for good reading. In addition to the teams I mentioned earlier Doncaster and Fleetwood are also now above us. If Burton beat us on Tuesday they’ll hop over us too. They have not won in the last four though so perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope but how are we going to shake off what we’ve now turned into in the league?

On the bright side we did discover a new micro-pub, the Wonky Donkey, that’s not far from the ground and if we do end up playing here again next season will return for more beer and banter/insults. Great place.

In the Wonky Donkey

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