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96/97: Reports:

Nationwide League Division 2, 4/3/97
Peterborough United 2(1)
Scorers: Charlery (31), Boothroyd (57 pen)
Watford 1(1)
Team: Miller 2, Gibbs 2, Robinson 3, Page 3, Millen 2, Bazeley 2, Palmer 1, Johnson 3, Phillips 2, *Scott 3*, Mooney 2
Subs: Ludden (for Robinson) 2, Noel-Williams (for Scott) 2, Ward
Scorers: Mooney (2)
Dire, dire, dire
Report by Nick Grundy

This was, to be frank, pathetic. It was on a par with the three hours of tedium and mind-numbingly dreadful football which made up the Gillingham/Notts County double whammy, and this is not just because we lost. It's because we looked a lot worse than the collection of Watford rejects and Barry Fry special buys which made up the Peterborough team, and were lucky only to concede two.

Part of the blame for this, I'm afraid, has to lie at the KJ's door. From the start it was clear we had come for a battling sort of a game, and while the conditions were awful, surely he's realised by now that the Palmer/Johnson midfield pairing just DOESN'T WORK. They've looked good playing alongside each other in one game (Oxford) that I've seen, and even then they were bashing clearances into each other half the night. I was almost certain that Clint Easton would be in last night's team; okay, he's played in a fair number of games recently, but we've had one of our best runs while he's been in the side and he hasn't looked tired or jaded yet. We really do need a creative midfielder to play (as our recent run has perhaps proved), whether it's Easton, Penrice, (a fit) Porter, Ramage or whoever; last night's team didn't have one in the side or on the bench and suffered enormously as a result.

This is the final grumble before I depress you all by talking about the game; what on earth were we doing with two defenders and a striker on the bench when two of our midfield had only just come back into the first team - Palmer through suspension and Mooney through injury. It was ridiculous; when you've won your last few games and played fairly well, then surely to goodness if you must change a winning team (thereby breaking football adage no. 162), then keep the players who've made a difference in the squad. It was really painful realising that, at 2-1 down, with Steve Palmer having mare of a game and with Tommy on his last legs we had no one to bring on in midfield. It seems awfully obvious with hindsight who should have been on the bench - Clint can play on both the left and the centre of midfield.

Anyway, on to the game. The conditions in Peterborough were bad; it had been raining off and on in Cambridge most of the day and, judging by the state of the pitch, similarly in Peterborough. The pitch looked broadly similar to the one I used to play on at school; the middle of both penalty areas was grass-free, and the overall condition can best be described as swampy. It was also quite foggy, so while the other end of the pitch was visible from the away end, details were hard to pick out.

And so it proved two minutes in when we won our first corner of the game. I think Darren Bazeley took it, as I recognized his hair at a later corner, but I can't be sure, and all we saw in the away end was the ball get centred and nodded firmly down into the corner of the net after (I think) a near-post flick (I think) by (I think) Scott. Cue a certain smug over-confidence in yours truly as I thought about our defence, league position, and capacity for not conceding goals.

Our defence is, after all, one of the best in the football league, isn't it? Not on last night's showing it bloody isn't. Right from the start we were embarassingly crap at the back. I can only truly illustrate how bad by pointing out that the Peterborough forward line of Ken Charlery (yes, that Ken Charlery) and Roger Willis (yes, that Roger Willis) looked good against us. Miller, while retaining his ability to stop shots, flapped at a lot of stuff in the air, failed to claim several straightforward low crosses, and didn't shout at the rest of the defnece enough for being, well, crap. Gibbs was at best anonymous and at worst terrible, while Millen and Page looked seriously shaky against the aforementioned messrs Willis and Charlery, especially in the air. I can remember Page winning a few headers, albeit not in his usual nonchalant battering ram style, but Beefy Keithy I can't recall doing anything really impressive all game.

I can't even be bothered to catalogue the succession of chances that we presented to the Peterborough strikeforce half by half; early on Paul Robinson let Louie Donowa skin him for pace a couple of times, and the crosses were headed goalwards when they should have been cleared. Robinson, unlike the rest of the defence, adapted to the problems of pace he faced, and gradually improved throughout the half. He also gets 'pass of the match' for one ball hammered forward 40 yards or so at grass-cutting height directly to the feet of SuperKev. What a pity no one in midfield could match his range of passing and ability to find players' feet.

Other chances we gave them came from an innocuous cross low along the six yard box which an unpressured Page and Miller came for and then left for each other, it was cleared by Robbo; a succession of runs by Otto which Gibbsie failed to deal with; innumerable flick ons by Charlery and Willis; several unamusingly pathetic incidents where someone fell over; a free header from about four yards which went straight into Miller's arms; a shot from about the same distance which Charlery somehow managed to put over the bar (by a gratifyingly large amout, as it happens) and a ball which ?Millen? was shepherding out for a corner which Miller came for, and they both allowed Willis to get a foot in and direct the ball all the way across the goalmouth and just wide of the post. To be brutally honest, they could have had three by half time and so many by full time it doesn't bear thinking about.

Their first goal is rather symptomatic of the problems with our defense and midfield. Shortly before half time, Otto picked the ball up out on their right, and brought it forward to the edge of the box. At this point Palmer and Gibbs were both between him and the goal, although Gibbs had been backing off him for about four days before trying to stop him. Somehow - it might have been a rebound - he played the ball across. At this point they had three men on two - only one of the centre backs and Robbo were anywhere to be seen - and ?Willis? had time to turn with it eight yards from goal, draw the centre half and touch it across for Charlery to slot it past Miller.

And if he ever celebrates a goal in front of opposition fans again, I hope the ref books him and I hope he tries it against Millwall and some huge fat brainless moron runs out onto the pitch and explains the error of his ways to him in some suitably violent fashion, because that's what I felt like doing. Still, he's going down anyway.

One-all, then, and looking grim. Service to the forwards had been much too little and too poor, Steve Palmer wasn't anything like his usual self (as our catalogue of defensive problems show), Mooney was giving it loads but was tiring even at this stage, while Bazeley didn't see enough decent ball to give him the chance to have a go at his full-back. In all this morass of awfulness, Keith Scott stood out (not much, but it didn't take a great deal). He was always able to bring the ball down and lay it off sensibly and to feet, he won some ball in the air, and take on defenders. SuperKev did most of the same things, but had problems due to the fact that his teammates seemed to have decided that he'd grown several feet since scoring three on Saturday.

Peterborough's captain and centre half had gone off by this stage, but at no point in the second half did we bother to run at the defence or to try to pass through them, preferring instead to hoof it forward. This was especially noticeable towards the end, when we'd been kicking it aimlessly forward for about fifteen minutes without any results, and yet continued to do so till the final whistle.

The only interesting parts of the second half were a header from Phillips from a Mooney cross which Griemink (who, by the way, resembles a muppet) just tipped over - there was a shot first half from Mooney, too, incidentally, which was an absolute piledriver, which he managed to save - and another attempt by Baze to 'do a Northampton' - he missed by about six inches. Having said that, some of his decisions were poor; he was much too willing to put shoddy crosses over rather than take on his fullback, and shot when he should have crossed.

Other things are the substituition of Scott for the Gift - a pretty bloody silly decision given that we weren't even pretending to play it to feet and Scott had been our best player - and their penalty. I'm afraid that I'm not going to say it was an outrageous decision, because to be honest I could see bugger-all about it. I know it was Marcus Ebdon who got taken down because Barry Fry said so on the radio, and I thought it was Ludden who felled him, but I honestly couldn't see. Boothroyd scored anyway, and it was just miserable from there on in.

I suppose I should say something about our luck having to run out eventually, and I suppose this wasn't the end of the world - I still think we've got a good chance of promotion - but it was the manner in which we played which depressed me. The fact is that in a lot of the games where we've played badly we haven't actually looked like losing - Notts County, Gillingham, and perhaps Wycombe as well? - but last night we looked like losing from about twenty minutes in, and we played very, very badly. It was a frankly embarassing and humiliating end to an unbeaten run which, whatever you may think about it, was a great achievement, and I only hope this signals the start of us winning more games as well as losing more.