A little something of the away day experience died on Saturday, and it may have died forever.
1,160 City fans defied the weather and expectations of a postponement to arrive at London Road, with the great bulk of them opting to stand instead of sit. It meant a thousand or so rowdy Tiger citizens on the wonderful, incomparable Moys End terrace, all creating a vibrant, old-fashioned footballing atmosphere.
When we will next get to stand on a terrace for a League game?
The answer is quite possibly “never”. Safe standing is something Amber Nectar has supported for year, and is clearly an idea whose time has come. It may take the authorities a while to catch up, but we’ll get there in the end. It’ll be a big improvement on the all-seated idiocy that has blighted the game for far too long. But wouldn’t it be great to go a step further? To have proper terraces like the Moys End again?
It’s a nostalgic’s lament, of course. It won’t happen. Too many lackwits already shriek “Hillsborough” at safe standing, so goodness knows what they’d make of the terrace returning. No, they’re just about a thing of the past now. Even Fourth Division stadia are going all-seater now, so even if City do dip into the lower leagues at any point in the future, they may be all gone by then. It’s inevitable, but it’s not progress.
That we got to stand on one on Saturday was quite something else, too. Peterborough’s splendid London Road boasts the finest away end in English football, but it notably lacks undersoil heating. With sub-zero temperatures racking the country and large quantities of snow being dumped on the east on Friday night, we travelled in hope rather than expectation, glumly surveying the white fields en route and grumbling at Peterborough’s foolish insistence that the game would ever be played.
Shortly after half-ten, our cynicism was shown up for what it was. The match was playable, and while the condition of the pitch won’t be winning any awards, when we saw its condition it was impossible not to praise the Peterborough groundstaff, who had evidently done a fantastic job of looking after their surface. Well done to all.
It meant that on a chilly but snow-free afternoon, City took the field in amber, and lined up: Stockdale; Chester, McShane, Bruce; Rosenior, Meyler, Quinn, Brady, Koren; Proschwitz, Simpson. The familiar 3-5-2 formation, the one we suspect opposing teams are just beginning to find ways of combatting now.
And so we began attacking the far end, roared on by the Tiger Nation, a couple of whose younger and more excitable members had some orange smoke bombs to impress us with. City began well, keeping possession without looking particularly threatening, while Peterborough seemed content to sit back and marshall numbers behind the ball – the reverse of the usually home and away roles. It made for a quiet opening to the game, the only action being a long-ranger from a Posh and a similarly optimistic effort from Robert Koren, though neither attempt threatened.
Nick Proschwitz missed a superb opportunity with a free header at the far post after a cross from the left – from the far end it was difficult to discern precisely what happened, though the awkward leap suggested the ball was a little behind him. The effort flew wide of Bobby Olejnik’s left-hand post.
This began a period of City pressure, with McShane sending a header straight at the Peterborough keeper and a Koren shot taking a nick off a defender and going out for a corner. It was from this that the lead was taken, and while a goal had been coming, it was very lucky when it arrived. Koren’s low corner was pretty badly struck, low and bobbling, but suddenly the net bulged and the sort of crazed, delirious surge you only get on a terr…okay, enough banging on about them now.
When some semblance of order was finally restored, the likeliest explanation was that a clearance had been horribly sliced into his own goal by a Peterborough player. The lead was about deserved, however it arrived. That was pretty much it for the first half, a period low on chances and with only intermittent glimpses of quality from either side. City had kept possession tolerably well – but the spark was missing. Gone, for now at least, is the rampant attacking play that utterly destroyed Leeds just a few weeks ago. In its place is a more hesitant and uncertain style of play. It’s a puzzle.
For their part, Peterborough would probably have taken a point from the match, and with the deficit a single goal and City looking unlikely to rip them apart, they were in the game and presumably not too dismayed with the half-time situation. They’d hung in, had a few shots (mainly from distance) and restricted their promotion-chasing visitors to comparatively few clear chances. Everyone sensed there was all to play for.
Peterborough started the second half quickly, evidently concurring that the game was very much alive. They had a couple of shots from distance that sailed over, and while they didn’t alarm Stockdale in the City goal, they enlivened the generally torpid home support.
On the hour, it appeared that City had doubled the lead when Brady (having a good afternoon) evaded his marker, cut outside onto his left then swiftly swiped a shot at goal – it seemed in and many celebrated prematurely, only to flash inches wide.
With City unable to finish the game and Peterborough unable to level it, both managers made changes. Jay Simpson went off for Corry Evans, and looked in a bit of discomfort as he left the pitch. Meanwhile, the home side swapped Brisley and Petrucci for Mendez-Laing and McCann. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but City would really have benefitted from bringing on Aaron Mclean to invigorate things.
Paul McShane collected the afternoon’s first caution for a foul on the edge of the box that presented an ugly menace; luckily the shot was mishit and bounced off the wall to safety. However Peterborough were clearly on top by this stage, with the Tigers offering disappointingly little up front and creaking more than a bit at the back. The lively Jaanai Gordon sent a shot wide from the left-hand side of the box, but it was to prove only a temporary reprieve.
On 79, Peterborough fashioned an overlap on their left which resulted in the ball being transferred inside to Rowe – he tangled with Chester and went down, and referee Mr Bates pointed to the spot. While this analysis is somewhat imprecise, it just felt like a penalty and the City protests were minimal. McCann took it, Stockdale dived to his left and the ball went to his right to secure a deserved equaliser.
Unhappy at this, and with City’s generally lethargic offering, Steve Bruce made a double substitution, removing Koren and Quinn for Cairney and Stewart. Peterborough also made their final change, Swanson coming on for Gordon. They almost paid for this, and for suddenly sitting back in defence of their point as the urgency of the situation inspired City to create about as much in the last ten minutes as had previously occurred in the whole game.
Stewart sent in a well-hit shot that was deflected out for a corner, while a diving header from the subsequent corner by McShane prompted a good save by Olejnik. Nick Proschwitz nearly capped his solid display with a goal, firstly with a smartly struck effort on his left foot that Olejnik did well to keep out and then with a shot that blazed over after a tidy turn on the edge of the area.
It wasn’t to be though, and on the balance of play it didn’t deserve to be. We filed solemnly out of the Moys Terrace for the last ever time, which the insane League rules dictate must be abolished if Peterborough have the temerity to stay up. There’s no need to panic, but it’s certainly the case that City have wobbled a bit of late. When you’re playing 3-5-2 and devoting so many of your players to the midfield, that midfield has a huge responsibility to take control of games. Right now, it isn’t.
Robert Koren is looking oddly out of sorts, spending more time out of games than in them. Quinn’s all-action offerings earlier in the season may be catching up with him a little, while the absence of Elmohamady is plainly damaging to City’s capacity to swiftly hurt teams. The defence doesn’t look in urgent need of attention; but then again, the Tigers haven’t kept a clean sheet in four games – while up front, Steve Bruce is juggling strikers whose goalscoring returns are beginning to look troublingly thin for a promotion chasing side.
We remain optimistic, of course. City are obviously one of the division’s stronger outfits and it’s probably easier to rediscover scintillating form than to have to find it for the first time. Steve Bruce knows what his team is capable of, and so do well. Hopefully we see its return sooner rather than later.