There are some days when everything falls just perfectly. There’s a can (or maybe two) on the train, an excellent drinking establishment on a barge by a river near the ground is stumbled upon, there’s a terrace on which to party, a boisterous away support, a strong City performance, and a win. This was a day when everything went right.
It’d been greatly anticipated, too. Peterborough away is an obviously winnable fixture, and the opportunity to stand for the first time in more than three years was irresistible. Most people took it – the seated area to the right was somewhat less than full.
As we assembled behind the goal, there was something of a surprise in the team news: Matt Fryatt had been dropped from the side in favour of Martyn Waghorn. He was to partner former Poshite Aaron Mclean, as the Tigers carded an XI arranged in a 4-4-2 formation and manned like this: Basso; Rosenior, Hobbs, Chester, Dawson; Brady, Cairney, McKenna, Koren; Waghorn, Mclean.
On the bench for City were Gulácsi, Dudgeon, Evans, Barmby and Fryatt, while Peterborough had new signing Emile Sinclair on the bench – scorer of those two Macclesfield goals at the Circle last month.
The match kicked off with the Tigers attacking the home terrace at the far end, City looking a little wary of their opponents. With twelve goals already posted before the game and a 7-1 humping of Ipswich last time out, their reputation for scoring is well known and deserved. It took less than two minutes to have their first effort on goal, a well-hit 25 yarder from Peterborough captain Grant McCann hitting the roof of Basso’s net.
However, the chances were all at the other end, with four coming inside 20 hectic seconds. Brady played a cute inside pass to Waghorn, who turned on the edge of the area and hit a looping left-footed shot that Paul Jones did very well to tip onto the crossbar. Koren’s follow-up effort from a tight angle was repelled by Jones’ boot, then McKenna’s 20-yard piledriver produced an outstanding flying save to parry the ball to Rosenior, whose volleyed shot was the easiest of the lot. Superb goalkeeping.
He was the busier of the two keepers despite Peterborough having more possession, though when Koren sent a volley his way on 15 minutes it didn’t require any of his earlier acrobatics to keep it out. Brady then sent a shot wide – City were looking a threat on the break, with intelligent movement and crisp passing probing the home side’s defence.
Peterborough rallied as the half went on, and create a chance to do justice to their ball-retention, which was good throughout – firstly a McCann chip bringing a very good save from Basso, and a few good positions on the City left were established, but came to nothing. It’d begun raining lightly at this point, speeding up the ball’s progress on the turf – yet with half-time approaching, even the slicker surface couldn’t get a dire backpass by a Posh defender to reach Jones. Waghorn latched onto this sloppy piece of play but sadly his own control was a little lacking, allowing the covering Zakuani to intervene and quell the danger.
An open, entertaining game was the verdict at half-time. Alas, Peterborough don’t equip the away end with alcohol-dispensing facilities, but that really is the only thing it’s lacking. Terrace, low roof, crashingly loud City support – this really is the best away end in English football. Yet soon it will be no more. The Football League’s rules give just three years for all Championship clubs to eradicate standing areas, and Peterborough are planning to do just this. It is a terrible, shameful act of vandalism on football’s heritage and an assault upon the right to choose how to enjoy a game.
Best make the most of it, then. Just two minutes into the second half we were given an opportunity to do just that. A corner on the City right was swung in by Tom Cairney towards the far post, where the spring-heeled Aaron Mclean duelled for a high-ball – he half-won it, the ball looped up and was cleverly nodded back to the City forward by Koren…his half-volley zoomed into the corner of the goal right in front us, and detonated mass hysteria among the Tiger Nation.
Mclean himself was true to his word about not celebrating a goal against his former club; his teammates mobbed him anyway, as deranged capering continued on the terrace. Amid the chaos a smoke bomb (or was it a flare?) was hurled onto the pitch, a bit of continental flavour that is probably the sort of thing you feel obliged to criticise in respectable company but secretly think was a bit ace – the stewards were slow to clear it, meaning the partying continued with a slightly reddish hue to it. Marvellous stuff.
This illicit intervention also meant that Peterborough were unable to kick off immediately while the smoke cleared, giving City time to reapply their concentration and not instantly cede an equaliser. In truth, Peterborough looked rather deflated by this poor start to the second half, and no swift retort looked likely.
The home side made their second change of the afternoon on 54, adding to the one forced upon them by injury at the break, with Wootton and Rowe now on the field for Zakuani and Frecklington. Nigel Pearson responded by replacing the largely ineffective Koren for Evans, something of a defensive move.
Peterborough finally recovered from Mclean’s goal and fashioned a couple of chances, Taylor walloping one over from just outside the area and Tomlin wastefully heading wide when presented with a good chance to test Basso. Between these Emile Sinclair had replaced Taylor, leaving Peterborough with no further options on the bench. With City presenting worryingly little threat up front, the Tigers boss opted to withdraw Mclean for Fryatt. The former walked off to a standing ovation from all four sides of the ground, which he thoughtfully reciprocated. Nothing whatsoever wrong a player acknowledging those who used to cheer him – it speaks well of his character.
Another change was made when Cairney was replaced by Dudgeon as Nigel Pearson attempted to smother the game. A rare City attack saw Hobbs smack a meaty header from a corner at Jones, but his fine afternoon continued with another good save. That was about it from City, who’d presumably calculated that one would be enough. Despite City’s remarkable away form since Nigel Pearson was appointed manager, we’ve only won three of those by two goals (Norwich, Preston and Scunthorpe) – the rest have been by a nerve-shreddingly slender margin of one.
Yet that calculation was a magnificent save away from being proven wrong. With six minutes remaining and the away end bouncing, our celebrations were nearly killed when Boyd flashed a shot at goal. It had that sickening “in” feeling straight away, but Basso flew to his left, thrust a strong arm at the ball and deflected the ball wide. In a game of fine keeping from both glovemen, this was perhaps the best. After this, Peterborough knew the game was up.
There was still time for a mis-hit Liam Rosenior cross to skim Jones’ bar and fall to safety, but the four minutes of injury time provided no alarms, and another away win was secured.
A great day on the road for the Tigers, yet again. A compact, determined performance was allied to just enough flair and execution at an important moment, and even if you crave more than that, it must be conceded that it’s proving consistently successful.
Following the loss of Gerrard, Hobbs and Chester are forging an increasingly solid partnership. Their differing styles work well – Hobbs as a muscular, dominant force and Chester as a cerebral centre-half allows threats of differing natures to be combatted. Cairney’s development continues to be a source of enjoyment, with his passing and dictating of a game’s tempo showing skill and maturity.
It’s Mclean who’ll be grabbing the headlines though, and rightly so. Still revered for his efforts at London Road, he’s becoming increasingly well thought of here too. A free-scoring forward he may not be, but a prodigious work-rate will always endear a player to the fans, and when there’s an end product he looks a fine player. Waghorn is a player of obvious class, and it’s testament to Nigel Pearson’s slow but methodical revolution that we can have a player of Matt Fryatt’s calibre on the bench.
So, successive victories for the first time since February, and a healthy league position of ninth. Those early-season worries look a trifle excessive now. As with most of last season, City are going to be hard to beat, are going to win games away from home and we look perfectly capable of a top-half finish. Well played City.