After five minutes of this game, with Peterborough leading courtesy of some extraordinarily poor defending and looking likely to add a second, Stuart Green again dropped and City look shabbily out of sorts, things looked very grim. Fast forward an hour and a half, and those feelings of gloom felt as distant as a murky January evening at the height of summer. What a curious afternoon, and what a happy ending.
Peter Taylor made some changes from the side that hobbled to victory against Blackpool last week. Lewis played in defence and Michael Keane was brought into midfield, as City lined up: Myhill; Joseph, Cort, Lewis, Dawson; France, Ashbee, Keane, Elliott; Allsopp, Wilbraham.
Things began disastrously – a long ball was not dealt with, Willock charged unmolested through City’s static defence and hit a bobbling shot past Myhill, whose might have reacted quicker to prevent the ball going in. 0-1. Wretched, ugly stuff, served up front of a boisterous but now aghast away support. It put City on the back foot immediately, and Jenkins and Sonner had further efforts on goal as City creaked alarmingly.
Gradually, we clawed our way back into things. Platt was a handful up front for Peterborough, but Cort increasingly had the measure of him and this served to restrict their threat, while Ashbee and Keane were beginning to wrestle control of the midfield. And a piece of swift thinking by Ashbee contributed to City’s equaliser after 22 minutes. A free-kick was awarded to City fifteen yards outside the area on the right of the pitch, which Ashbee quickly swung into the box. The delivery was accurate and it found Stuart Elliott charging in unmarked. As usual, his header was powerful and accurate, and gave Tyler no chance. 1-1, and it crushed Peterborough’s fragile confidence.
They were further hampered when Willock limped off the pitch on the half hour to be replaced by Andy Clarke. By this time however, the focus of the match was no longer at the goal defended by City, as Peterborough struggled to maintain parity. And they succeeded until half-time, though by a narrow margin, as a thumping 20 yard drive by Elliott rebounded off the post with Tyler convincingly beaten. One-one at the interval, although the pattern of play was firmly in City’s favour, and few of the 1,637 East Yorkshirefolk present doubted that a winner would arrive in the second half.
We were not to be disappointed. It took only until the seventh minute of a second half City had effortlessly dominated for our second to arrive. Marc Joseph, turning in possibly his finest display for the Tigers, won a corner on Peterborough’s left. Keane whipped it in, Tyler flapped woefully at it but completely missed it, allowing Leon Cort to steal in at the far post to nod the ball home from a tight angle. Posh heads dropped even further, while the Tiger Nation cavorted in glee on the away end. 2-1.
And to digress – what a fine away end it is. A traditional stand comprising proper terracing, a low noise-friendly roof and a real feel of footballing authenticity. This is the correct way to watch football, and it is a crying shame that the game’s authorities have decreed this method of housing spectators to be wrong. All credit to Peterborough United for not taking the dire option of bolting seats onto the concrete.
Back to the football. It was now glorious to behold. Peterborough had hoisted the white flag with Gallic cowardice, and could do no more than meekly implore Peter Taylor’s ruthless invaders not to rough them up to much. Fat chance. City were playing purring sleekly along, their masterful superiority imprinted upon every aspect of the game. Bobby Gould, the Comical Ali to Barry Fry’s Saddam Hussein, pranced along the touchline urging his demoralised troops to offer more than the craven surrender they had served up, but to no avail. Peter Taylor patrolled the same area with an air of comfortable authority.
The now subdued Clive Platt headed straight at Myhill as the culmination of a rare Peterborough foray into our box, before Allsopp created half a chance for himself on the edge of the area. He battled for possession and space and swiped a well-hit shot at Tyler, but it was too close to test the keeper. He was looking somewhat livelier than in recent weeks, although overshadowed by Aaron Wilbraham, whose general play was more closely resembled the strong target man previously advertised.
Fry threw on the half-fit Woodhouse, a summer transfer target for Peter Taylor, but he did not look fully fit and made negligible impact upon the game. We replied by replacing – slightly surprisingly – the excellent Joseph with Alton Thelwell. However, our former Tottenham defender was to make a considerable contribution to the third goal.
On 65 minutes, he played a nice one-two with France and wriggled into enough space from which to deliver a firm cross. Allsopp slid in but could not connect properly, and the chance looked lost. But no! What was this amber-clad vision streaking in at the far post? Why, it was our very own Northern Irish international, Stuart Elliott, hurtling in like an express train, and booming the ball into the top of the goal. The celebrations were lengthy and feverish, as any residual doubts about the destination of the three points were finally banished. 3-1.
That was about it, really. Had City really gone for the jugular then a hefty goals tally was there for the taking, although few can begrudge the team for being content to protect a two-goal lead away from home. Besides which, City did not retreat into the cloying defensive tactics some feared, simply forming an unbreachable line and looking to forge piercingly sharp attacks from deep – a tactic that Peterborough could not counter. Allsopp trotted off for Price, then Wilbraham was replaced by Walters, both strikers failing to score again but aided by the marvellous Elliott and safe in the knowledge their bustling play had unsettled the shaky home defence enough to make possible our raids from midfield.
Peterborough, of course, have a nasty habit of scoring in the last minute of games at London Road. They had done it in our three previous trips: a 2-1 loss in 2000, a 1-1 draw in 1999 (memorable for THAT goal by Jon Whitney) and a 2-0 defeat in 1997. The 2004 clash was to prove no different, with Andy Clarke scoring a header in the third of three injury time minutes, but this time the effect was to lend the score a flattering appearance for Peterborough rather than deprive us of any points. The goal was barely celebrated by the few remaining home fans, and only five seconds after City kicked off the referee ended the game, leaving no possibility of an equaliser.
And what a travesty a draw would have been. A 3-0 victory would have more accurately told the story of this match. Rarely can City have been so dominant away from home. Even allowing for Peterborough’s shocking inadequacy, they were firmly outfought and outclassed from the 10th minute onwards. Big, important contributions flowed from all parts. Both Joseph at right-back and Cort in the centre of defence have never played better for City. Dawson was typically accomplished, France showed tantalising glimpses of real quality anchored to a solid and unselfish display, Keane and Ashbee’s unfaltering industry secured the midfield battle, while Elliott’s breathtaking ability to score goals from anywhere simply cannot be countered at this level.
And our strikers – still suffering a barren spell, at least their workrate and general play was much improved. We now find ourselves second in the division. This is a truly fabulous start to the season. Granted, we may not have performed like a team bound for promotion at times (the horrors of Huddersfield and Bradford are fading, but slowly), yet there are many parallels to 2003/4, which ended with that magical day Huish Park. City do not always need to play well to win, if only because goals can arrive from all over the pitch. It is far too early to make rash predictions of a repeat promotion, of course, so we won’t.
As the nights draw in and the emphasis turns from pretty performances on luxuriant sunkissed greenswards to grinding dour victories in muddy, sodden battlezones, we will find different challenges awaiting and better opponents keen to derail our smooth progress. But let us be concerned about that when the time comes. For now, we shall gaze wonderingly at the League table, and enjoy the view.